Uncle Tupelo, No Depression

Peter Blackstock

By Peter Blackstock

on 09.23.11 in Reviews

No Depression

Uncle Tupelo
An unassuming start to a long musical story

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that so many musical stories would be launched by this unassuming if impressive 1990 debut by a Midwestern trio of friends in their early 20s. Uncle Tupelo was, at its heart, an underground rock band, born of the same MTV-averse community that gave rise to such 1980s club-circuit champions as Dinosaur Jr. and Soul Asylum. The hard-hitting tracks “Graveyard Shift,” “Before I Break” and “Factory Belt” settled comfortably into the post-punk-dominated playlists of that era’s college radio landscape; still, there was something else going on here. The title track was a cover of a song popularized by country music forebears the Carter Family in the 1930s, and the album’s most dramatic moments came from songs with acoustic backbones: “Whiskey Bottle,” a pedal-steel-driven dive into the bottom of the glass, and “Life Worth Livin’,” a soul-searching declaration for the down and out. Uncle Tupelo at this stage seemed primarily to be guitarist Jay Farrar’s band; the handful of contributions from bassist Jeff Tweedy (“That Year,” “Train,” “Flatness,” “Screen Door”) carried their weight but didn’t necessarily suggest a future star in the making. One might have guessed, in 1990, that these guys would fade away as innocently as they rose. History had other ideas.