Before Uncle Tupelo's No Depression sneaked out of Belleville, Ill., in 1990, the respective sounds of Sonic Youth and Lynyrd Skynyrd probably never occupied a common thought, let alone the same song. Yet the first track on that album obliterated any boundaries real or imagined that may have existed between those two bands. The pickin' was pure Second Helping, the dissonance straight Sister. On Anodyne, Uncle Tupelo's fourth album (and first for a major label), the trio continues making contemporary-sounding country rock for the perplexed generation.
Songwriters Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, both 25, borrow the best from the music's old guard (the seasoned grain of John Prine, the bittersweet sensitivity of the Flying Burrito Brothers) on songs like "Give Back the Key to My Heart" (with guest vocalist Doug Sahm), the emotionally choking "High Water," the banjo-based "New Madrid" and the defeatist "No Sense in Lovin'." What keeps Uncle Tupelo sounding relevant is their post-'80s fear and desperation, both in their lyrics ("We've Been Had") and in the intermittent brush strokes of feedback and discord. Tweedy and Farrar occasionally stumble too far into pathos (à la another hero, the late Gram Parsons), but they also have an intuitive sense of the simplicity and dynamics of a country song.
With a growing number of hip alternative rockers suddenly singing Parsons' praises, it seems the time is ripe for yet another country-rock revival. With Anodyne, Uncle Tupelo remain one step ahead of the crowd. (RS 671)
(Posted: Dec 9, 1993)
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