What can we say about Uncle Tupelo? I place them on the level of importance of Jason & the Scorchers. AP once said that UT was the father of Alt Country. The band was not–that honor in my mind goes to the Byrds and Parsons as anyone who has followed this series of posts knows by now. However, we are not in the “golden age” of Alt Country for no reason. In 1988-1994, UT took the genre to a new level. Simply put, UT is one of the most important bands in history, and what this band did to move the marker of Alt Country forward cannot be discounted.
UT did not last long because of the creative differences between Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. After UT broke up, Tweedy would go on to form Wilco and Farrar Son Volt. Both bands are going to receive significant props in this series. But, before the split, there was UT. The band represents a sort of mid-western take on the Alt Country genre (the other major regions and cities in my mind are Austin, Tx., and Raleigh, Nc.)
UT blended punk and country, and country rock, and traditional country in a new way. The 1990s sported Alt Country bands that loved both Black Flag and Johnny Cash. Odd? Not really. It seems odd to traditionalists, and even to rock, punk, and die hard enthusiasts to a particular genre solely. UT took all these influences and blended them in a very American way. UT thus would not be without the most significant 60s band in history–the Byrds. The blend of rock and country reaches a pinnacle here. UT spawned in many ways the name No Depression for the movement with their first album by the same name. The reason Alt Country is also known as No Depression is because of this album. Then followed Still Feel Gone, and eventually Anodyne. The band was finished by 1994.
No Depression was a breakthrough album, and slipcue/Joe Sixpack writes:
An interesting album, with a wild pastiche of styles, though in retrospect, an unlikely locus of the cultish devotion that it has accrued. This is the first album by Uncle Tupelo, a band from the southern Illinois suburbs outside of Saint Louis, and which sported alt.country luminaries Jay Farrar (later of Son Volt) and Jeff Tweedy (later of Wilco). For fans, this is a foundational record: its title track (a cover of an old Carter Family standard) was adopted as the name of the No Depression magazine, which became the self-proclaimed standardbearer of the alt.country scene; the ‘zine itself started as an outgrowth of an Internet chat room/fan club devoted to Uncle Tupelo. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the band, nor, for the most part of its various offshoots. But that’s probably because I approached them from the perspective of a longtime fan of hard country and honkytonk, and from that vantagepoint the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s offered plenty of “alternative” bands that were of infinitely greater interest. But if you came to Uncle T. from an indie rock background, I’m sure they were a great revelation. Mixing angst-ridden grunge rock motifs with crude, enthusiastic twang and shamelessly recycled cowpunk riffs, Tweedy and Farrar were hipsters on a mission, and very much in tune with their times. The sloppiness was willful, the eclecticism a challenge to narrow-minded rock fans, and the nods towards country forebearers such as Gram Parsons, et. al. a double-dare throw-down to their regional Midwestern/Southern fan base, who had grown up firm in the belief that country music was redneck crap that cool kids wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Uncle Tupelo echoed numerous bands, ranging from Midwestern heroes like Soul Asylum to Southern indie icons REM, and of course, the melodramatic, bombastic Seattle grunge scene, which was all the rage at the time. I still don’t think they were any great shakes from as a hick music combo, but as rockers, they could keep up with the best of them, and it’s certainly hard to imagine anyone more emotive and untamed a singer as Tweedy, even with his somewhat mannered faux world-weary vocals. This new CD edition offers six extra tracks — live perfomances, demo tracks and outtakes — as well as casual, informative liner notes by drummer Mike Heidorn, and lots of UT memorabilia, such as reprints of old show posters, advertising the band playing at frat parties and teeny local bars. For devoted fans or the newly curious, this is a pretty classy package.
Gumbo pages has some nice things to say with additional links. Factory Belt keeps the dream alive. Grant Alden of No Depression Magazine goes sober on the last official album while UT was yet together in his review of Anodyne. Peter Blackstock considers the Anthology album in 2002 here.
The only thing bad about UT’s break up is that the band broke up, but oh the wonderful bands that came out of such destruction. To the music. I present Uncle Tupelo:
And here’s Chickamauga since embed is disabled.