In many ways, Son Volt is the quintessential midwestern American band. Guitarist/vocalist Jay Farrar and drummer Mike Heidorn -- two-thirds of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo--hail from Belleville, Illinois, near St. Louis, and bassist/vocalist Jim Boquist and his multi-instrumentalist brother Dave live in Minneapolis. The songs on TRACE, written by Farrar after he relocated to New Orleans, offer glimpses of sights, sounds, and stories picked up along the way, including "Windfall," an ode to upright citizens whose unfulfilled dreams don't deter their progress through life with "both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel." There's also "Route" and "Loose String," a pair of slashing rockers, and a fine acoustic number, "Tear Stained Eye." Farrar hasn't changed much since his stint with Tupelo, but he's operating at a sufficiently high level that it scarcely matters. His lyrics are often deeply coded, yet these songs are rich and profound, and they warrant the time required to unlock their meanings.