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Son Volt: Straightaways

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SonVolt

Album: Straightaways
Label: Warner Bros.

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When Uncle Tupelo broke up, fans couldn't have gotten a better deal: Not too long after the split, they got albums by Jeff Tweedy's Wilco and Jay Farrar's Son Volt, which conveniently carried on in the tradition of Uncle Tupelo's two disparate sounds. You could easily put the two discs in a CD changer, hit "random play," and have what sounded like a very good double-length Uncle Tupelo record. That arrangement has gotten more complicated as the two bands meander further and further into new and separate directions: Wilco's 1996 sophomore release, Being There, was an ambitious double-disc set that expanded the group's repertoire beyond ambling country-rock songs, while Son Volt's new Straightaways withdraws into mostly dreary, samey mid-tempo fare. Where the band's debut, Trace, had a clean, ragged feel that lended itself well to car stereos, Straightaways is marred by mushy arrangements and Farrar's tendency not to vary his cracked, wounded vocal style. Acoustic material like "Way Down Watson" delivers a needed sense of spare elegance, but too often, the record is just a slogging bore. That's too bad for fans who've come to expect something a bit more dynamic from Uncle Tupelo's gifted offspring.