CD Review of 89/93: An Anthology by Uncle Tupelo
Label
Sony
Uncle Tupelo: An Anthology

Reviewed by Red Rocker

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O
ne of the greatest unknown bands in rock and roll history has just now released its first ever career-retrospective collection of arguably its best material. 89/93: An Anthology puts the final exclamation point on an all-too-brief career from Uncle Tupelo, one that might better be finished with a question mark instead. You see, 1989 to 1993 does not simply represent a portion of their career, or even the twilight. This historically little-known trio was really only a band for five or six short years, and when the ties were severed in early 1994, there was so much controversy surrounding the split that it understandably took nearly another decade to produce this "greatest hits" collection. For anyone who missed the legends that were Uncle Tupelo the first time around, take note. Here's your last chance (especially since much of their original catalog is out of print) to hear for yourself one of the under-appreciated greats of our age.

Although Uncle Tupelo officially formed in Belleville, IL, in 1987, it wasn't until they released the 1990 debut "No Depression" that their brand of furious, barroom-savvy, country punk rock launched not only a career, but a genre of music. With the heartfelt acoustic guitars and ragged harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, backed up with frenzied punk rock compositions similar to The Clash and Husker Du, Uncle Tupelo's music borrowed from more vast influences than any critic could even keep up with. There was no denying that guitarist Jay Farrar, bassist Jeff Tweedy and drummer Mike Heidorn were punk rock pioneers cemented in old-school country influences. Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams have as much to do with their vintage sound as Iggy Pop, The Replacements or Lou Reed.

For a first-time listener, the simple acoustic pop compositions, like "No Depression," "Still Be Around" and "Watch Me Fall" will serve as a pleasing introduction. The drawn out drinker's lament "Whiskey Bottle" and the jumpy fuzz-guitar rocker "Gun" display the inherent ability of Tweedy and Farrar to cover unimaginable ground between ballads and punk rock. The stripped acoustic version of "Looking for a Way Out" (from 1991's Still Feel Gone) is brilliant, and leaves even the diehard Tupelo fan with something he hasn't heard. Not all of these songs are hits; in fact, most aren't even close. Radio wouldn't begin to spin such diversity. But by the time you get toward the end of this collection and discover lost diamonds like "The Long Cut" and "New Madrid," with their flashing wound-up guitar riffs and intensely gruff harmonies, a missed musical opportunity from over a decade ago will scratch its way right across the chalkboard and no doubt gain attention.

Farrar has long since moved on to form today's Son Volt, along with Tupelo mate Heidorn. Meanwhile, Tweedy and once session musicians Ken Coomer, Max Johnston and John Stirratt forged ahead with Wilco. While the unique parts are seemingly enjoying as much, if not more, success than the sum of the original band ever did, many of the Tupelo faithful still dream of the day that Jay and Jeff might bury the hatchet and regroup to explore what lost fire may still burn.

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