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89/93: An Anthology
Artist: Uncle Tupelo
Length: 21 tracks
Uncle Tupelo calls this compilation of their brief four-year stint as a band an "anthology," and it is appropriately titled. This album plays like a history lesson in the birth and blossoming of a new musical genre called alternative country.
The banner song of that genre, "No Depression," starts off this CD. It could have come straight out of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and is what "no depression" music is all about; seeking hope amidst sorrows. It is also the last time on the album Uncle Tupelo's two singers, Jar Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, sound like they are in the same band. The rest of the CD shows what made this band's tenure so short. Two very independent songwriters shared the same band. They should have taken a lesson from Caedmon's Call. If you are going to have two excellent songwriters, you need at least 5 other band members for good transitions between personalities.
The cover art, like the anthology, sends the listener on a road trip through Uncle Tupelo's four different albums. The songs from No Depression show off the intimate and very personal feel of the early years. You are there with the band, just kicking back on the porch on "Screen Door" followed by "Graveyard Shift," a great tune with the energy of punk rock. Farrar laments, "Whiskey bottle over Jesus, not forever, just for now," on "Whiskey Bottle." From the album Still Feel Gone the desire of folk influence grows. The raw, timeless feel on "March 16-20," referring to the five days it took to record the album, show Uncle Tupelo a their peak. The Dylan-feeling cover "Moonshiner" is an introspective first person account of a man sick of wasting away his life as a drunkard with sweet accordion and a cutting harmonica in an arrangement that would make Bill Mallonee of the Vigilantes of Love proud. Finally, the songs of Anodyne, like the Beatles Abbey Road, one more great effort before the songwriters go their separate ways. The historical lesson it shows how in four years Jeff Tweedy came into his own, going from feeling inferior to Farrar to the man who would explore the vast reaches of American roots rock with his new band Wilco.
Uncle Tupelo was a very important factor in the development of what today is one of the most respected areas of music. 89/93: An Anthology shows how three guys from Illinois bound together by a love of punk music, yet from a culture permeated with old country roots, were musical pioneers and didn't even know it. A must have album for anyone who is a fan of no depression music.
Matt Kilgore 5/5/5002