I came to the band Uncle Tupelo late but quickly made up for lost time. I recently unearthed a copy of their Anthology 89 /93 release which serves as a record of the band over their all too brief history. An alt-country band from Belleville, Illinois, they released four albums between 1990 and their break-up in 1993.
The band was formed by the trio of Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn after the lead singer of their previous band, The Primitives, left for school. They recorded three albums, expanded to a five piece band, and broke up after key songwriter Jay Farrar had a falling out with co-writer Jeff Tweedy. They completed a final tour and called it quits.
Early show poster (when it cost $3 to see them)
After the breakup, Tweedy, or course, went on to fame with the band Wilco while Farrar took his talents (and Heidorn) into the bands Son Volt and later Gob Iron. (Trivia Note: Gob Iron is British slang for a harmonica).
Although never a huge commercial success, Uncle Tupelo is credited with having a significant impact on the alt-country music scene. They were very adept at taking country based songs and adding the influences of punk rock but with harmonies that were more representative of The Carter Family and even Hank Williams. Their punk influences came from pioneers like The Minutemen and John Doe (of “X”).
The group’s first album, “No Depression”, was very influential and touched on recurring themes familiar to the working class of Belleville and Middle America. They followed it up with “Still Feel Gone” and then their 3rd release “March 16 – 20, 1992“. They completed their fourth and final release “Anodyne” (tour poster above).
The eponymous title track from their debut album “No Depression” was a cover of a classic track performed by The Carter Family in 1936 during the Great Depression as “No Depression In Heaven“.
For fear the hearts of men are failing,
For these are latter days we know
The Great Depression now is spreading,
God’s word declared it would be so
I’m going where there’s no depression,
To the lovely land that’s free from care
I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble,
My home’s in Heaven, I’m going there
In that bright land, there’ll be no hunger,
No orphan children crying for bread,
No weeping widows, toil or struggle,
No shrouds, no coffins, and no death
This dark hour of midnight nearing
And tribulation time will come
The storms will hurl in midnight fear
And sweep lost millions to their doom