Punk-country blend finds a following

April 17, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Once upon a time, there was an alternative rock band called Uncle Tupelo. It was not a typical alternative band, for its songwriters, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, drew as much from classic country music as they did from punk rock. This made Uncle Tupelo interesting, but it did not earn the band much of an audience, and eventually Farrar and Tweedy went their separate ways.

So now there are two bands -- Farrar's Son Volt and Tweedy's Wilco -- and the children of Uncle Tupelo are doing just fine. In fact, these new bands have gotten so much attention from fans and the music press that Uncle Tupelo is now being treated as a legendary alternarock act -- particularly by those who paid no attention to the band when it was still around.

Although Farrar finds it ironic that his old band is bigger now than before it broke up, he sympathizes with the fans-come-lately. "People who are just now becoming aware of both bands and want to know more tend to romanticize the situation," he says. "It's understandable."

Still, the singer himself would rather focus on the present, and on "Straightaways," Son Volt's mournfully brilliant new album. Between the dry, road-worn twang of Farrar's voice and the occasional whine of a pedal steel guitar, there's clearly a country undercurrent to the material. But that influence seldom dominates, for as much as Son Volt's sensibility might owe the likes of Faron Young, the band's sound has far more in common with Neil Young.

That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given Farrar's early days as a punk rocker. But as he explains, country and folk music were as much a part of his musical upbringing as rock and roll.

"I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of folk and country music around," he says. "It was what my parents played, it was what they were interested in, and that was what they had in their record collection. So I was exposed to that before I really started playing guitar.

"But when I started playing guitar, I wasn't really paying attention to that. I mostly grew up playing in rock bands. Things have just come full circle."

Maybe so, but it's unlikely Farrar will ever be mistaken for a typical C&W tunesmith. There aren't many Music Row songwriters who could blend dark dobro blues licks and a droning, Appalachian-style melody as deftly as he does in "Been Set Free." As for the album-opening "Caryatid Easy," well ... when was the last time you saw anyone from Nashville use the word "caryatid" in a song title?

"It's not a word I use every day," admits Farrar. "It means the supportive column of a structure in the form of a female figure. I came across it in a dictionary, looking up, I don't know, 'catwalk' or something.

"It seemed like an interesting word."

Son Volt

When: Monday, April 21, 9 p.m.

Where: Bohager's

Tickets: $12

L Call: 410-563-7220 for information, 410-481-7328 for tickets

Sundial: To hear excerpts from Son Volt's new release, "Straightaways," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and punch 6161. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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