When alt.country pioneers Uncle Tupelo split in 1993, founding members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy went their separate ways, Tweedy forming Wilco, and Farrar, Son Volt. At first, Son Volt was the more successful band, but after the release of Wide Swing Tremelo in 1998, they broke up. Farrar began releasing solo records that didn't enjoy much attention, and now Wilco is far more successful than either Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt ever were. Farrar has a lot of catching up to do: First comes the release of A Retrospective: 1995-2000, containing highlights of Son Volt's first three records, covers, demos and live recordings, some of which are previously unreleased, and in July, the band (with all new members) is set to release Okemah and the Melody of Riot, their first new record in seven years.
A Retrospective kicks off with "Drown," the first track on 1995's Trace, and progresses through the rockers on that record. Three songs from Straightaways and four songs from Wide Swing Tremolo are accented by covers, such as Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues" (sung with Kelly Willis), the traditional "Ain't No More Cane" (attributed here to Huddie Ledbetter) and Woodie Guthrie's "I've Got to Know." It's telling, though, that A Retrospective is so full of covers: Some of Farrar's songs are brilliant additions to the world of traditional folk country, but they are few and far between. However, the four-track versions of "Tear Stained Eye" and "Loose String" are perhaps the most interesting moments A Retrospective has to offer: Even stripped down, with scratchy vocals, both of these songs from Trace are examples of Farrar in his element.