Led by vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Jay Farrar, Son Volt became one of the leading bands in the alternative country community, attracting critical praise and an audience that was loyal if not always large. Jay Farrar first made an impression on music fans as the co-founder, with Jeff Tweedy, of seminal alt-country group Uncle Tupelo. After touring in support of their 1993 masterpiece Anodyne, Uncle Tupelo split up over long-simmering creative differences between Farrar and Tweedy. Tweedy recruited much of the band's final lineup to form Wilco, while Farrar teamed up with original Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn to form Son Volt, the more traditionally minded of the two Tupelo offshoots. Joined by brothers Jim Boquist (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.
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. Farrar reconvened Son Volt in 2016 to record a new album, Notes of Blue, which was released in February 2017. The album, in which the bandmembers indulged their taste for classic blues music, was released by Farrar's Transmit Sound label through a distribution deal with Thirty Tigers. Notes of Blue also saw more personnel changes for Son Volt, featuring Farrar, Spencer (this time on bass, side guitar, and piano), fiddler Gary Hunt, pedal steel player Jason Kardong, and drummer Jacob Edwards. ~ Steve Huey & Mark Deming