In recent years, timing has not worked to the benefit of Son Volt or its leader, Jay Farrar. The heavily publicized breakup of the legendary alt-country group Uncle Tupelo left Farrar and his new band in a sort of imaginary competition with the more ambitious Wilco, led by fellow former Tupelo co-frontman Jeff Tweedy. The fact that the offshoots' albums always seem to come out concurrently hasn't helped, especially when fans inevitably compare Wilco's monumentally acclaimed 1997 double-album Being There to Son Volt's boring, forgettable sophomore slog Straightaways. But things are looking up for Farrar and company, starting with the quality of Son Volt's third album, Wide Swing Tremolo. Unlike Straightaways, which battered listeners with an interminable string of dreary ballads, Tremolo is refreshingly diverse, its slow numbers ("Strands," "Right On Through," "Streets That Time Walks," et al) offset nicely by instrumental interludes ("Jodel," "Chanty") and roughed-up, chugging, mid-tempo rock songs like "Straightface," "Medicine Hat," and "Flow." It's not quite the knockout late-night-driving record Son Volt's debut Trace wasthat album arguably bested Wilco's shambling debut, A.M.but it's a pleasingly consistent return to form.