Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ICON-Uncle Tupelo

Hard to believe that this band would rewrite the Americana rock and roll music scene with their No Depression album and then three more albums and a severe falling out would lead Jeff Tweedy to form Wilco and Jay Farrar with Son Volt and the consensus say Wilco has been the better band, I on the other hand think of them being overrated at times.  Son Volt was more to the spirit of Uncle Tupelo but the unevenness of their albums, I have not revisited all that much.  But this is not about those bands.

Uncle Tupelo came from Bellevue Illinois  and made a winning classic album right off the bat with No Depression.  When I first heard this on KRUI, I damn near tore apart Record Collector to find that cd and basically wasn't disappointed at all between the grunge twang of Graveyard Shift, this album competed with Kings Of The Sun Full Frontal Attack as best record of 1990, with the latter winning out.  While RCA wrote KOTS off, Rockville, the minor label that signed U.T. managed to make money on the band while shortchanging them.  The band eventually got their masters back after a cease and detest, and the winning bidder Sony Music ended up reissuing the three albums of their Rockville tenure.

It was Farrar that dominated the songwriting although Tweedy got his share of songs as well, but to these ears, Farrar's songs stood out.  Whiskey Bottle, Before I Break and Factory Belt was damn near perfect punk country garage but they could break out the acoustics well, a beautiful cover of the Carter Family No Depression and John Hardy a fork song turned into hard rock were just as good.  The Rockville album was economical and to the point and while Legacy reissue of that album, they added some bonus tracks and it's a mixed bag, although a 1988 No Depression cover showed more of a country acoustic they would go after on their third and final Rockville platter.  Legacy reissued the album once again, but this time adding the demos titled Not Forever, Just For Now and the heart of U.T. is there as Farrar and Tweedy would reshape their prolonged love of Iggy Pop, Garage Rock and The Flying Burrito Brothers into their own type.

Still Feel Gone the followup, may have been somewhat a disappointment but again to these ears, it was a nice followup. More rocking and less twang, this time out Tweedy's songs were just as good as Farrar, with the D Boon tribute song thundering and If That's Alright plus Nothing his finest at that point.  Brian Henneman (Bottle Rockets) and Gary Louris (Jayhawks) helped out as well.  But the next album, what was supposed to be their shining moment, turned out to be a downer of sorts March 16-22 1992.  Produced by Peter Buck (REM) it's basically Jay and Jeff, (Mike Heidorn was on his way out, replaced by Ken Coomer on the next record).  There are some fine numbers on this (Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down, Black Eye) and lotta people consider this their finest hour but for myself, I missed their stop and start punk rock and basically fell asleep most of the time.  A period of transition so to speak.

After that, they signed with Sire Records and dropped their final album Anodyne and for all intent purposes as far as they would go.  Coomer on drums was not as wild as Heidorn was and could keep a more straighter beat. Quickly recorded in May-June 1993 it's also famous for bringing in the late great Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet) to sing on his own Give Back The Key To My Heart.  In some ways this record is compromise of part rock of No Depression, part country and part acoustic of March 16-22 1992, but the chilling line of "no more will I see of you" on Steal The Crumbs may have foretold of the bitter breakup between Farrar and Tweedy.  To which it ended in January 1994, to which bitter feelings still remain to this day and perhaps a reunion will never take place.

While Tweedy's star has shined brighter than Farrar in Wilco, that band jumping all over different types of music up to their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a album that Reprise rejected but came out on another Warner Music imprint Nonesuch, which was elements of U2 and Radiohead but by then I gave up on Wilco.  Son Volt was slightly better with Trace and minor hit Down and having Mike Heidorn on drums, but Farrar has been more at home with the acoustic music and honky tonk to which was the name of Son Volt's last album. But in 2000, the band sued Rockville and Dutch East Trading Company of lack of payments and eventually got their masters back. And can be found on Columbia/Legacy.  They also put out 89/93 An Anthology, which cherry picks the better known tracks and adds some unreleased stuff as well. It's okay but I'd go with the original albums.

The legacy of Uncle Tueplo remains back in 1990 with No Depression and still remains one of the best 90s albums out there.  But the oil and water that is Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, would make classic music together and while Wilco has been the critics and fans darling since the nasty breakup.  I'll forever go to my grave singing the praises of Uncle Tupelo.  We may never seen another band of their likes ever.


No Depression (Columbia/Legacy 1990) A
Still Feel Gone (Columbia/Legacy 1991) A-
March 16-22, 1992 (Columbia/Legacy 1992) B
Anodyne (Sire/Reprise 1993) B+
89/93 An Anthology (Columbia 2002) B+
Not Forever, Just For Now (1989, later issued as bonus disc on No Depression Legacy-2014) A-

Son Volt:
Trace (Warner Brothers 1995) B+
Straightaways (Warner Brothers 1996) C+
Wide Swing Tremolo (Warner Brothers 1998) B
A Retrospective (Rhino 2000) B-
Okemah And The Melody  Of Riot (Legacy 2005) A-
The Search (Legacy 2006) B-
American Central Dust (Rounder 2009) B
Honky Tonk (Rounder 2013) B-

Wilco: (incomplete)
AM (Sire/Reprise 1995) B+
Being There (Reprise 1996) B
Summerteeth (Reprise 1998) B+
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch 2001) B

Billy Bragg And Wilco
Mermaid Avenue (Elektra 1998) A-
Mermaid Avenue (Elektra 2000) B+
The Complete Mermaid Avenue Sessions (Nonesuch 2014) B+

Jay Farrar solo albums I have not heard so I didn't include them nor the Wilco albums after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  Most of their moments but the weirdness of A Ghost Is Born kinda put me off buying any more after that although The Wilco Album and Sky Blue Sky are worth getting should you come across them.


2000 Man said...

I love Uncle Tupelo, and I like Son Volt most of the times, but after Being There I haven't liked Wilco at all. March 16-20 is a snoozer if you ask me. I like them when they're a little noisier. I've never listened to Mermaid Avenue, and I've been told it's one of the greatest things ever, but I just don't like Wilco very much. Is there a reason I should check it out? Does it Rock or is it all quiet songs? It's like a forty dollar record, is it worth that?

R S Crabb said...

Howdy 2000

Agreed on the March 16-20 album being a boring album most of the time. I do missed them rocking out. While jeff tweedy and Wilco continues to get critical love and admiration, I really can't get into them after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, seems like they gave up rocking out in favor of being Son Of Radiohead a band that I never gotten into.

I like the first Mermaid Avenue more than the second although both albums are listenable and Billy Bragg does help out more and Natalie Merchant guest stars on a couple songs. It's a variable and entertaining effort but paying forty dollars for the vinyl is a very pricy investment. It kinda reminds me of A.M in a way, it rocks on some songs, the Natalie Merchant appearance are the quiet ones.

Thanks to You Tube you can preview the album before buying. I like it fine myself but your opinion may vary.