Uncle Tupelo

Anodyne  Hear it Now

RS: 5of 5 Stars Average User Rating: 4.5of 5 Stars


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Uncle Tupelo crawled out of the factory town of Belleville, Illinois, in 1987 with what turned out to be one of the most durable ideas of the modern-rock era: using loud, fervent guitars to support the churchgoing earnestness of hillbilly songs. By the time the band dissolved, four studio albums later, songwriters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy -- who went on to found Son Volt and Wilco, respectively -- had helped spark the thriving alt-country genre.

These long-overdue reissues -- which include the three Rockville Records efforts as well as the band's 1993 major-label debut (and swan song), Anodyne -- should lift Uncle Tupelo out of historical-footnote status. One revelation is the band's impressive songwriting range, which stretches from Farrar's apocalyptic, transcendence-seeking tunes to Tweedy's two-beat curiosities and sad love odes. Each title has been remixed and crisply remastered, and each offers previously unreleased bonus material.

Tupelo evolved quickly. The first phase, documented on 1990's No Depression and its follow-up, 1991's Still Feel Gone, finds the band drawing on both the Stones and the Clash to forge its own fire-breathing power-chord stomp. The second phase, which begins with "Sauget Wind," a Farrar-ballad outtake from Still Feel Gone, flowers fully on the Peter Buck-produced live-in-the-studio collection March 16-20, 1992 -- a triumph of austere, delicately embroidered acoustic atmospheres that put the emphasis on the narratives. The final phase, Anodyne, combines Uncle Tupelo's early headstrong rock with the nuances of March 16-20, and shows that this band, alone among American acts of its generation, understood how to connect Woody Guthrie to the Minutemen to Marvin Gaye.

For all the lore surrounding this band's performances, most of the bonus material falls into the "pleasant but inconsequential" category. But there are a handful of undeniable gems: notably, Anodyne's live jam of "Suzy Q," which finds Farrar spitting blue fury over a rhythm bed that evokes both the open prairie and the murky Delta swamp.

(From RS 921, May 1, 2003)


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