Uncle Tupelo - No DepressionUncle Tupelo - Still Feel GoneUncle Tupleo - March 16-20, 1992

Uncle Tupelo
No Depression

(Columbia/Legacy/Rockville)

Uncle Tupelo
Still Feel Gone.

(Columbia/Legacy/Rockville)

Uncle Tupelo
March 16Ė20, 1992

(Columbia/Legacy/Rockville)

First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2003, Volume 10, #9

Written by John Metzger

gif

By the time Uncle Tupelo ó Jay Farrar, Mike Heidorn, and Jeff Tweedy ó became well-known outside its southern Illinois base, the group had already disbanded. Still, it left behind a legend that has grown considerably since its seven-year existence, thanks in part to the fanzine No Depression, which chronicled what has been dubbed the alternative country movement and took its name from the bandís first album ó in actuality, it was the name of a Carter Family song that appears on it. Of course, it also helped that two of Uncle Tupeloís founding members (Farrar and Tweedy) climbed to even greater heights with their subsequent projects and helped to push alt-country into the mainstream. But back in 1987, the groupís members were simply combining their influences, which included everyone from The Byrds and the Rolling Stones to The Clash and Neil Young, and applying them to a simple set of original songs about life in an impoverished, small factory town.

That same year, Nirvana was founded in Seattle, and a similar feeling of angst filled the music of both bands. Nirvana, of course, broke through in a big way with 1991ís Smells Like Teen Spirit, but the forceful chords that drove Kurt Cobainís songs also found their way into tunes like Graveyard Shift and That Year from 1990ís No Depression ó so much so that in the hands of Uncle Tupelo, alt-country sounded like the grunge sceneís hillbilly cousin. Thereís no question that throughout the album, Farrar, Tweedy, and drummer Mike Heidorn were still ironing out the kinks in their collective approach to songwriting, and although many of the tracks turned out to be ineffectually similar, thatís not to say there werenít plenty of gems to be found. Most notable were the mournful social commentaries Whiskey Bottle and Life Worth Liviní on which the band clung to a last glimmer of hope, while simultaneously drowning its sorrows and searching for salvation at the bottom of a bottle of alcohol. Yet, there was a restless edginess that pervaded much of No Depression, too, and though the group frequently sounded like a bar band, its debut recording hinted at the greatness it had yet to achieve.

In 1991, Uncle Tupelo released Still Feel Gone., and the album largely found the trio continuing to fuse punk rock and country with mixed results. From a songwriting perspective, it was a more mature effort, but musically the styles continued to thrash against one another, at times, rather uncomfortably. Its lyrics dealt with the band membersí collective struggle to get out of their hometown and make something of themselves, and itís full of the usual road-weary sagas that young groups tend to face along the way. There were moments when things fully came together for Uncle Tupelo, such as the bouncy country romp True to Life; the reflective If Thatís Alright, which hints at directions that Tweedy would take with Wilco; and the jangly pop-folk of Still Be Around that undoubtedly attracted Peter Buck to produce the bandís next project.

That, of course, was March 16Ė20, 1992, which was named after the dates of the recording sessions held in Athens, Georgia. Fortunately, there was much more originality in the albumís music than there was in its title. Thereís no question that Uncle Tupelo was coming apart at the seams, and its subsequent and final outing Anodyne was akin to The Beatlesí White Album ó a series of solo sessions pieced together under the guise of being a band. Somehow, Buck managed to keep the group together long enough, however, to polish off the material that became March 16-20, 1992, making what is arguably Uncle Tupeloís finest (and most cohesive) release. Itís an unplugged and intimate affair, full of the haunted echoes from a distant past, brought back to life through the aching vocals, gentle percussion, and soft guitar strums of Farrar, Heidorn, and Tweedy. Comprised of six traditional songs, nine original compositions, and a cover of the Louvin Brothersí Atomic Power, the collection wove together protest songs, murder ballads, working-class laments, and gospel numbers into a stirring singular vision of American life. Amazingly, the tracks written by Tweedy and Farrar sounded right at home next to the other selections ó a testament to how far each had come in a very short period of time ó and though the trio still utilized odd tempo changes, on songs like Grindstone and Wait Up, they now seemed much more comfortable in doing it. Thereís no question that Anodyne was a masterpiece in its own right, but in hindsight, itís been a bit overrated in comparison to March 16Ė20, 1992. Alt-country never sounded better than this.

All three of these albums were recently remastered and reissued, each with its own set of bonus material as well as detailed liner notes. No Depression features a lengthy biography of the band by Heidorn that fondly recalls Uncle Tupeloís early days from its formation up to the time of the albumís release. The six bonus tracks are all terrific and include an immaculate cover of Gram Parsonís Sin City as well as a live rendition of Whiskey Bottle thatís even more poignant than its studio counterpart. The updated version of Still Feel Gone. includes a glowing, but non-essential, remembrance of the album by pop music writer Holly George-Warren, three interesting demos that were later perfected, and two outstanding cuts: a raucous run through the Soft Boysí I Wanna Destroy You and the claustrophobically world-weary Sauget Wind. As for March 16Ė20, 1992, it features an insightful article written by Rolling Stoneís David Fricke, based on interviews with the band. Its bonus tracks include the Neil Young-ish B-side Take My Word, a live rendition of Moonshiner, and four demos ó including a bucolic cover of The Stoogesí I Wanna Be Your Dog.

gif

No Depression ó starstarstar

Still Feel Gone. ó starstarstar

March 16-20, 1992 ó starstarstarstar

gif

No Depression is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

Still Feel Gone is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

March 16Ė20, 1992 is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

gif

Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

gif

Copyright © 2003 The Music Box