BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Chances are, when future tastemakers set out to uncover the exact juncture at which Americana merged with insurgency, they’ll find their ‘ah-ha’ moment by tapping into Uncle Tupelo’s seminal effort, No Depression. As the album that gave its title to an entire movement – as well as a revered journal of the same name – it paved the way for a pair of spin-offs that eventually overshadowed the mother ship, namely Wilco and Son Volt. And the influence they left on like-minded offspring has continued to flourish ever since.
As Richard Byrne explains in the essay that accompanies this newly expanded reissue, country rock was firmly etched in the firmament by the time Uncle Tupelo came along, with the usual suspects like the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers being among the earliest advocates. Yet, the irreverent, guns a-blazin’ approach that Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heldorn adopted depended as much on Black Flag and the Ramones as it did on any of those outfits. Even though it was couched in down home sentiment, the music allowed frenzy to trump finesse, ultimately resulting in a barbed, unapologetic expression of ennui and outrage.
That, of course was evident at the outset, with the album’s opening trifecta — “Graveyard Shift,” “That Year” and “Before I Break” — spewing that venom early on. Despite the traces of twang evident in the title track and the pedal steel washing through “Whiskey Bottle,” the petulance remains uninterrupted. Indeed, the addition of an entire second disc full of demos suggests that the antagonistic attitude emerged fully formed. The other add-ons – the single version of “I Got Drunk”; “Sin City,” its Gram Parsons-written B-side; a live acoustic “Whiskey Bottle”; and a handful of other outcasts — show how consistently determined their delivery remained, given that there was a certain slash and burn woven into their core.
There are any number of landmark albums that critics are quick to label as essential, but given the fact No Depression jumpstarted an entire genre, none deserve that label more. The kudos earned by this good Uncle are clearly well earned.