Back in 1990, before Nirvana broke and changed everything, alt country outfit Uncle Tupelo changed quite a bit themselves, thank you very much. Credited, entirely appropriately, with creating the alternative country scene, Uncle Tupelo‘s blend of country music fused with the energy of punk, the effervescence of pop and the dark tangled lyricism of failed relationships and the plight of working America was not only a breath of fresh air, it was the establishment of a new genre, pretty much influencing, well, everyone in the Americana underground as well as more mainstream country artists.
Inspired as much by the Minutemen, Dinosaur Jr and Black Flag as they were by the Flyin Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons, their debut album, “No Depression” is quite rightly considered something of a landmark. You’ll probably be familiar with vocalist Jeff Tweedy‘s work in Wilco, who emerged from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo in the mid 1990s but, thanks to the lovely people at Sony records, you can reacquaint or acquaint yourselves with Tweedy’s exemplary early work thanks to this excellent re-release, a two disc 35 track compilation with 22 unreleased bonus tracks as well as the original opus. Ambassador, you are, indeed, spoiling us.
Whilst no concept album, there are rich themes running throughout “No Depression;” it’s a telling insight into the hearts and minds of young American men at the start of the 1990s- questioning the crushing inevitability of falling into dull, mundane jobs that barely help pay the rent; of trying to avoid being drafted to the military for the first Gulf conflict; of drinking heavily (but not heartily) to forget bruised and battered relationships; of becoming an adult and realising that your hopes and dreams may need reframing, if not changing altogether. Heady stuff.
Despite the often dark subject matter, the band’s ear for melody means that this never falls into that awful, self flagellating melancholy that affected many of their peers. Far from it: their extolling of country’s most obvious virtues: namely, tell us a story, sing us a song means that “No Depression” does exactly what it says on the tin, and more. There is an energy to the songs that have not dimished with age; there’s an honesty to the music that you immediately warm to and the absence of any cloying sentimentality is to be applauded.
There’s little doubt that Uncle Tupelo were pioneers: somewhat ironically, they loathed the sense that they had created any kind of scene or movement, preferring to see what they were doing as part of a broader canvas of American music that was true to its roots and motivations. Sorry to say this gentlemen but you did create a movement and you did change things: and all for the better too. Seriously recommended!