Back to the '90s: Uncle Tupelo spurs alt-country with 'No Depression' debut

Imagine, if you will, a parallel universe in which Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was a critical favorite that didn’t sell particularly well outside of the small niche audience interested in the Seattle “grunge” scene.

In this universe, the reaction to the combination of ’80s American punk rock and “Paranoid”-era Black Sabbath popular in the Pacific Northwest was a pale echo of the rapturous response to the blending of ’80s American punk rock and “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”-era Byrds pioneered by Uncle Tupelo on their ground breaking (and, in this scenario, platinum-selling) debut album, “No Depression.”

Listening to the blast of guitars on the opening track “Graveyard Shift,” this alternate time line doesn’t seem so far fetched. The energy doesn’t let up until the title track, a cover of a rootsy Depression-era Carter Family song so spot on you can almost feel the dust in your nose and throat.

It picks right up again with “Factory Belt,” lamenting the drudgery of blue-collar work while working up a fit of noise worthy of Sonic Youth. The remainder of the album shifts effortlessly back and forth between balls-out, Replacements-style sloppy punk and rough-yet-sweet country rock before closing with the traditional folk song “John Hardy.”

In the universe we actually live in, Uncle Tupelo is perhaps best known by the results of its demise: Jay Farrar’s Son Volt, and Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco. The success of their offspring combined with the slow boil of the American alt-country scene has kept Uncle Tupelo from the obscurity of fellow sonic pioneers like Seattle’s Green River or Louisville’s Squirrel Bait. Still, you can only wonder what could have been.

— Nicholas Coleman

  1 comment for “Back to the '90s: Uncle Tupelo spurs alt-country with 'No Depression' debut

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *