After touring in support of their 1993 masterpiece, Anodyne, the seminal alternative country band Uncle Tupelo split up over long-simmering creative differences between co-leaders Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy recruited much of the band to form Wilco, while Farrar teamed up with original Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn to form Son Volt, the more tradition-minded of the two Tupelo offshoots. Joined by brothers Jim (bass) and Dave Boquist (guitar, fiddle, banjo, fiddle, steel guitar), the band signed to Warner Bros. and released its debut album, Trace, in 1995. It was greeted with excellent reviews from most critics, offering a set of stark, subtle, mostly downbeat songs that drew from traditional country, folk, and roots rock. The single "Drown" was successful on both college and rock radio, and the band subsequently added unofficial fifth member Eric Heywood on mandolin and pedal steel for its second album, 1997's Straightaways.
While Straightaways mined territory similar to Trace and again received positive reviews, some found Farrar's lack of creative progression troubling, and although 1998's Wide Swing Tremolo was a somewhat harder-rocking affair, the erosion of critical support for the group continued. They ended up on an unofficial hiatus (rumors of their breakup were denied), and Farrar debuted as a solo artist with 2001's Sebastopol, putting the future of Son Volt in further doubt. He continued with his solo career throughout 2002 and 2003, and in 2005, Rhino issued Retrospective: 1995-2000. But Son Volt weren't over. Farrar revived the nameplate in July 2005 with the issue of Okemah and the Melody of Riot (Legacy). For the album, recorded in St. Louis, Farrar was joined by drummer Dave Bryson, bassist Andrew DuPlantis, and ex-Backsliders guitarist Brad Rice. Search arrived in early 2007, followed by American Central Dust in 2009. Honky Tonk, full of pedal steel guitars and twin fiddles, and a sort of homage to the Bakersfield country sound, arrived early in 2013. In 2015, Rhino Records marked the 20th Anniversary of the release of Trace with an expanded and remastered edition of the album, including Farrar's original songwriting demos for the album and tracks from a Son Volt concert recorded in New York City in February 1996. Farrar supported the re-release with a solo tour in which he performed the album's songs in full. ~ Steve Huey