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It may not be entirely accurate to state Uncle Tupelo invented alternative country music, but it is very close to the truth to say that by incorporating influences as disparate as The Stooges and the Carter Family, they defined the diversity integrated within this style of music evolving in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Accordingly, while the Uncle Tupelo catalog has migrated through one round of expanded remasters of their early discography, their music deserves the deeper archiving represented by the two-disc edition of their debut album No Depression (the title of which became a regular publication covering roots music).
At this early juncture of their career, Uncle Tupelo was largely a self- sufficient collective. Virtually all the songs on the first record were collaborations between guitarist/vocalist Jay Farrar, bassist/vocalist Jeff Tweedy and drummer Mike Heidornand. Given the separate stylistic paths taken (not to mention levels of respective success) by Tupelo's descendants Son Volt and Wilco, the former certainly sets both the tone and pace of the record. Coarse electric guitars, jabbing bass and fairly furious percussion form the bedrock of the title track and even more so, the ideal opener "Graveyard Shift."
But the dynamics downshift with "Whiskey Bottle"sweet pedal steel intertwines with sparkling acoustic guitars that give way to quasi-metal hammering on the refrain. The wholly unself-conscious incorporation of genres at the foundation of Uncle Tupelo's music is a combination of hoedown and heavy metal linked by a literate knowledge of folk: as such it represents a consummate act of courage on the part of the band (no doubt a major source of the admiration they were afforded), but, particularly in retrospect, sounds like the logical extension of the rediscovery of country music in the late Sixties and Seventies as it wove its way through the punk/new Wave movement late in the decade.
None of which would matter much if Uncle Tupelo weren't tight as a band and sang so naturally and forcefully together, not to mention with resonant emotion, as on "Outdone." Disc one in this package contains nineteen tracks, including the baker's dozen of the original album, but it's not so simple to gauge the value compared to its 2002 version, as the bonus cuts are not identical. An alternate take of "I Got Drunk" bookends a cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City," as on the previous reissue, but the live acoustic version of "Whiskey Bottle" concludes the CD track sequence; the demo of this title song is thus relegated to the second disc of outtakes and rarities in favor of which here is "Blues Die Hard."
The latter tune also appears in an excerpt from a 1988 demo cassette, plus a similar five-cut collection from the previous year that's combined with ten other similar recordings (the relative polish of which compares favorably with the official disc selection, no doubt deriving from Uncle Tupelo's loyalty to live performance), the sum of which, in hour-long playing time and cut count, nearly equals the companion disc in this set.
Whether or not No Depression Legacy Edition is definitive only time will tell, but the comprehensive Uncle Tupelo timeline, as depicted in the essay of early St. Louis supporter Richard Byrne, begs the question of how much more complete a picture of this groundbreaking band might be conceived and executed.
Track Listing: CD 1: Graveyard Shift; That Year; Before I Break; No Depression; Factory Belt; Whiskey
Bottle; Outdone; Train; Life Worth Livin’; Flatness; So Called Friend; Screen Door; John
Hardy; Left In The Dark; Won’t Forget; I Got Drunk; Sin City; Whiskey Bottle. CD 2: Not
Forever, Just For Now; Outdone; That Year; Whiskey Bottle; Flatness; I Got Drunk; Before
I Break; Life Worth Livin’; Train; Graveyard Shift; Screen Door; No Depression; Blues Die
Hard; Before I Break; I Got Drunk; Screen Door; Blues Die Hard; Pickle River
Personnel: Jay Farrar: vocals, guitars, banjo, harmonica,mandolin, fiddle; Jef Tweedy: vocals, bass,
acoustic guitar; Mike Heidorn: drums, background vocals; Rich Gilbert: pedal steel guitar;
Paul Kolderie: percussion; Sean Slade: piano, background vocals; Tim Albert: background