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Uncle Tupelo: 89/93: An Anthology

In 1992, Uncle Tupelo released March 16-20, 1992, an album whose simple title revealed that its intense, perfectly realized tracks had been cut in a mere five days. Though the time frame is wider, the title of the 21-track, career-spanning overview 89/93 has something of the same effect. For such a relatively short-lived band, Uncle Tupelo accomplished much and influenced many during its lifetime. Born from the childhood friendship of punk enthusiasts and eventual country-music converts Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, Uncle Tupelo created a new sound without trying to hide its influences, all readily apparent on "Graveyard Shift," the first track on the group's genre-defining debut album No Depression. As country twang shifts to punk aggression and back again, Farrar sings a song that seems to come from the limited late-night reflection allowed by downtime on the factory floor. Uncle Tupelo rose and fell in Belleville, IL, but its music brought to life a whole swath of neglected America where Jesus and Jim Beam do nightly battle for residents' souls. If the stories are true, Tweedy and Farrar once went through a phase where they spoke only to fans of Black Flag, rejecting country music until they stumbled across—as Tweedy recalls in 89/93's liner notes—"a revelation at some point that that music was scarier than Henry Rollins could ever be." The band's genius came from its recognition that it needed both Black Flag and Merle Haggard to describe the world around it, one in which Rollins' worst nightmare was the material of the everyday. Over four albums, Uncle Tupelo laid out what would become the grid for a new wave of country music. At one extreme was the Carter Family, and at the other, The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and the original material filled up the space between. "Dog" is one of two bonus cuts included on 89/93, which serves as both a fine introduction to Uncle Tupelo and a teaser for the re-release of the group's out-of-print first three albums. Sequenced chronologically, it tells the story of a band that traded toughness for delicacy and grew apart as it got better. Tweedy's ascension from sidekick to equal partner split the band in two, leading to the solid-to-extraordinary work of splinter groups Son Volt and Wilco. But even though its career ended too soon, Uncle Tupelo did what it needed to do, alerting countless fans and musicians that a long-shunned musical heritage remained as timely as ever, and making timeless music in the process.


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