Though they came from a humble, hardscrabble scene, Belleville, Illinois-based Uncle Tupelo would posthumously be recognized as and promoted to the role of being founding fathers of the “alt.country” (whatever that is) movement. After four albums and a rather bitter split, fans have accepted that no reunion will ever take place, but because of the quality of material the band left behind–and the success of solo projects Wilco and Son Volt, this fate is accepted.
No Depression was the band’s debut, and it’s an impressive start for the duo of Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Blending influences as diverse as punk, country, folk, and American rock music, the thirteen songs found here have a timeless feel. Musically, the songs are paired down, no-frills numbers, nor do they fall victim to overwrought twangy posturing or hokey Southern accents. There’s something nice to hear a band blending the often speedy tempos of Bluegrass with punk rock on “That Year,” “Factory Belt,” and a wonderful cover of Ledbelly classic “John Hardy.” Farrar and Tweedy, though young men, both sound wiser and older than their ages, old souls that instinctively knew tales of the past. There’s not a bum note found on No Depression, and for a band so steeped in tradition, only one cover is found on the album–the title track, written by country and bluegrass pioneer A.P. Carter.
This Legacy edition expands the album with a cache of unreleased and unheard material. The first disc contains the band’s debut single, “I Got Drunk” and its B-side, a cover of Flying Burrito Brothers‘ “Sin City,” as well as an unreleased cover of “Left In The Dark,” written by Champaign/Urbana stars The Vertebrats, and though unreleased or uncompiled, they are by no means lesser material.
It’s the second disc, however, that will pique the long-time UT fan. This disc contains the band’s two original demo cassette releases, dating from 1987 through 1989. What’s most revealing about these three tapes is not the obscurity of the material, or that there’s a lot of unreleased numbers or lost compositions–far from it. Of the seventeen songs, only one is unreleased (the justifiably forgotten “Pickle River”), and the remaining sixteen tracks contain the entirety of No Depression, save for “John Hardy.”
This fact is not coincidental, and is well worth mentioning. What, then, does this tell us about Uncle Tupelo? That they were a band that knew that they were writing superior, quality material, and that they knew that what would eventually constitute No Depression was material worth releasing. The trio would go on to make three more records–equally different and diverse, yet owing much to this debut record–and their legacy has lived on long after the core duo of Tweedy and Farrar decided that they had no longer felt the need to speak to each other.