Uncle Tupelo Gets the Reissue Treatment

It’s unclear what strain of moonshine was mixed with how many parts distortion and Hank Willliams to create Uncle Tupelo. But ten+ years removed from their existence, the work that its founding members have gone on to produce validates Tupelo’s recordings as not simply lucky noise labeled “genius” or “important” by hipster reactionaries. In its earnest mixture of ragged black T-shirt punk and Appalachian rhythms of hope and despair, fellow songwriters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy captured the day-to-day of Midwestern America, which they then harvested into themes: bored, drunk, and looking for a way out.

We’ll never know, but the band’s particular alchemy may have been experimented with elsewhere, in some uncharted American basement. After all, it’s not like they invented a new, never-before-seen color. Nevertheless, it is the music of Uncle Tupelo that’s knee-deep at the water source, heading up a bucket brigade that has led to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and No Depression magazine, Winona-dater Ryan Adams’ career, and Universal Music’s newly-minted Lost Highway Records. While not directly responsible for any of these examples, Tupelo’s early catalog is constantly cited as the progenitor of all things y’allternative.

Farrar and Tweedy know this. Ever since their parting of ways after the Anodyne tour of 1993, the two have followed separate musical paths united by an oft-stated wish: Don’t make us the two-headed Moses of Insurgent Country. The work of Son Volt and Wilco is steeped in the same American musical landscape that inspired Uncle Tupelo, but the two songwriters have been conscious of letting their respective post-breakup work develop on its own. To that end, Tweedy’s Wilco has emerged as an Americana tableau art-rock experiment, while Farrar has played it a little closer to the vest with Son Volt, travelling down dark highways reminiscent of his Tupelo days. (Lately however, Farrar has diversified a little. “Sebastopol,” his current solo project, is an airy mix of pop-ish arrangements and the Bakersfield sound.)

Part of what keeps the vitality (and legend) of Uncle Tupelo’s early work alive is that three out of their four records are out of print, and have been for quite a while. Rockville Records is no more, and Tweedy and Farrar had to jump through some hoops to regain the rights to 1990’s No Depression, 1991’s Still Feel Gone, and March 16-20, 1992, their last for the erstwhile label before Anodyne, the 1993 swan song, released on Sire Records. Rights secured, March 19 sees the release of Uncle Tupelo 89/93: An Anthology, a retrospective to be followed by remastered, repackaged additions of Uncle Tupelo’s entire Rockville catalog, with bonus tracks and outtakes to boot.

The tracklist, according to the Columbia/Legacy press release:

1. No Depression

2. Screen Door

3. Graveyard Shift

4. Whiskey Bottle

5. Outdone

6. I Got Drunk

7. I Wanna Be Your Dog (Prev. Unreleased)

8. Gun

9. Still Be Around

10. Looking For A Way Out (Acoustic Version)

11. Watch Me Fall

12. Sauget Wind

13. Black Eye

14. Moonshiner

15. Fatal Wound

16. Grindstone

17. Effigy

18. The Long Cut

19. Chickamauga

20. New Madrid

21. We’ve Been Had

This is an extremely comprehensive song list. It embodies the highs, the lows, the beer-soaked rock and roll moments, and the puke-stained tear jerkers, all of which define Uncle Tupelo’s influential sound. And for fans of “California Stars,” the compilation will likely achieve what the press release boasts: “So if you haven’t heard them – or maybe just heard of them – now’s the time to re-discover on of the most important bands of our time…”

Cynical comments aside, it will be interesting to see what the reissue of Uncle Tupelo’s catalog will do for the band’s confusing legacy as heroes of a genre they unwittingly created. And how will the re-issues effect the Farrar and Tweedy’s current fanbases? Will the re-emergence of the old material, in conjunction with, say, the long-delayed physical release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, finally give Wilco the boost into the big time that is allegedly always around the corner? Probably not, and that’s by choice. Wilco left their old label for a reason, and it wasn’t because Reprise was encouraging their avant-garde take on Americana. But whatever happens, and whatever Uncle Tupelo’s legacy really is, the upcoming reissues will be important as documents to four years’ worth of incredibly honest, rocking, sad music, that deserves to be listened to on its own merits, and not built up as some sort of golden calf in a cowboy hat.



  1. Very cool. As someone who doesn’t own any of the Rockville stuff, I’m damn happy to have the opportunity to rectify my error. What I can’t figure about Tupelo is how they avoided getting stuck in the same awful cycle with Cowboy Junkies. And why doesn’t anyone ever mention Springsteen as a causal link to Tweedy-Farrar?

  2. I’m in the same boat with the Rockville releases. I haven’t even heard them.This could be grounds for mass amounts of verbal abuse, but does anyone else find Farrar’s releases since Tupelo to be bit boring? It’s not that I think he’s made some bad music, it just doesn’t conjure up any emotion within me.

  3. Farrar stuck closer to the Tupelo formula with Son Volt. He has just recently branched out with his solo career in sort-of the same way Tweedy did with Wilco.

  4. Still, to me, Sebastapol couldn’t hook me. Then again, Tweedy could be reading a restaurant menu and evoke emotion. I guess I’m trying to compare apples and oranges with the two, but Tweedy just has me in his grip like Farrar never could.

  5. Sab,What do you mean by “awful cycle with Cowboy Junkies”. It’s not that I take exception with the comment, just curious about your thoughts. They don’t come up in conversation very often…

  6. I managed to dig out Stll Feel Gone after reading this article. Reminds me of the way Whiskeytown is today (or last year, anyway). If any of you have the Jeff Tweedy MP3 singing a song called “Gun”, well, it’s and old UT song off Still Feel Gone. Great stuff.I’m with Proptronics about Farrar’s Sun Volt stuff being boring. Never caught with me like Wilco’s stuff did.By the way: if anyone has seen Wilco on their latest tour, they sound, well, one man short. That is the best way I can describe it. There seems to be a hole in their live show where a guitar should be. If anyone else has experienced this, come cry with me.

  7. You guys who don’t have the Rockville stuff really ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You should at least have the acoustic March album. Tweedy’s songwriting and singing were both pretty weak on the first two albums, so he gets the “most improved” trophy, but there are some real gems on all three of those albums. The song “Postcard” is a great Farrar rocker that isn’t going to be on the anthology. I’m looking forward to the reissues because I’ve got the first three on vinyl (yes, I’m bragging), so it will be nice to have them on cd too (with bonus tracks, remastered, etc.). I never liked Farrar’s UT ballads though.

  8. So does anyone think the previously unreleased, I Wanna Be Your Dog, is a cover of the Stooges track of the same name off their first album?

  9. This sounds like a great release – I’ll be happy to finally get to hear what all the fuss is about.

  10. “same awful cycle as Cowboy Junkies”Sorry, that was a bit of a non-sequitor. What I meant was: release good album, garner much critical acclaim, play college town tour sponsored by local NPR stations, repeat. Never really take the music anywhere, never really break new ground, never cross over, never break up.Cowboy Junkies are a good band, but boring in the extreme just because they just keep doing the same thing for the same fans year after year after year. My point was just that with as devoted as the No Depressioners are, it’s odd that Tupelo didn’t take that same route. God knows they could have; thankfully they didn’t.

  11. This is sort-of off the topic, but not really. While we’re on Americana/Country-Rock, does anyone else out there dislike the band The Band? I’m just curious because you see their influence pop up all over the place, but I just can’t seem to get in to them.

  12. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is awesome. A net-head friend of mine found it last year. It might beat the original.That was a really good point about the Cowboy Junkies. I’m sure glad Wilco didn’t stagnate.The Band are great. I sometimes think I have to get a little older before I’ll really appreciate them. They showed an old film of the Band recording in the studio, during my radio class in high school up in Traverse City, and all the kids laughed their asses off at the way they looked and the out-of-date sounds they were making. Including me! But I bet ten years from now, those same kids could hear The Band and feel the music speaking to them. I don’t think haircuts matter a whole heck of a lot to mature audiences who can tell when a band is reaching out earnestly to them. But I bet those little Hot Topic shits will laugh at you just like they laughed in high school radio class.

  13. you call this a sentence?”In its earnest mixture of ragged black T-shirt punk and Appalachian rhythms of hope and despair, fellow songwriters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy captured the day-to-day of Midwestern America, which they then harvested into themes: bored, drunk, and looking for a way out.”

  14. no, not at all. Is he the same guy that wrote the fuck article. Actually, I like this web site, the music it discusses and topics it covers. I nitpick because I care. When I read about one of the best bands of all time, I expect the sentences to be run-on-free. You dig?

  15. Ah, then pick away!Since you love Uncle Tuplo so much, you’ll be interested in some upcoming articles we have including a review of Jay Bennett and Ed Burch’s new album and a little something about Wilco’s trust in technology and their fans.

  16. I take back what I said about Tweedy’s song writing on the first two album. I still think his stuff on No Depression is pretty weak, but “Gun” and “Watch Me Fall” from Still Feel Gone are both really good songs.

  17. Having saw Uncle Tupelo live twice and been in on UT and No Depression from the beginning, I can tell you that, Jake, there is NOTHING on No Depression which is weak. It is one of the finest albums of the 90’s, if not of all-time. If you’ve never heard it or never bought the CD, you owe it to yourself to buy the reissue. But be prepared for the thrashing on many tracks – it’s not as laid back as Wilco or Son Volt.

  18. Tony, see my comment above from 03/08/02 10:08am. I’ve got No Depression on vinyl, and I’m still very excited for the reissue. However, Tweedy’s songs and especially his voice are totally weak to my ears on that one. And “Screen Door” has some terrible lyrics, such “Down here where we’re at everyone is equally poor.” That’s an embarrassingly bad, contrived, simplistic, weak line. Jay’s rockers kick all kinds of ass on that album though.

  19. I agree with Jake that Tweedy’s lyrics weren’t quite up to snuff and that’s why most people thought Jay was “the songwriter” of the two. That’s not ripping on Tweedy. I think he’s more than proven himself as one of our best songwriters, but he was younger then and had a ways to go. Even he has commented on “Screen Door” as being embarassing.

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