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Uncle Tupelo

89/93: An Anthology – 2002 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Uncle Tupelo

Alt.-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, especially core members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, get overdue historical recognition with this smartly annotated 21-song compilation. Formed in 1987, the Illinois-based combo (initially a trio, later a quintet) imbued traditional country-folk with punk rock anger and slacker nihilism. The result was a raw, more honest and fatalistic genre in which tempo didn't necessarily dictate the lyric's mood, raving electric guitars play off of hillbilly acoustics, and unrelenting despair becomes a cathartic listening experience.

Although Farrar and Tweedy split to form their own groups (Wilco and Son Volt respectively), Uncle Tupelo continues to influence up and coming roots music acts with their seminal "No Depression" sound. This retrospective augments important tracks from Uncle Tupelo's five albums for Rockville and Sire with rare singles ("I Got Drunk"), demos ("Outdone") and a brilliant previously reinvented cover song (Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog"). The meat of the collection comes via pungent Dylanesque folk ("Looking For A Way Out," "Moonshiner,"), bottle-as-bible hillbilly thrash ("Whisky Bottle," "Grindstone"), and stomping electric rock ("Graveyard Shift," "Chickamuga," "We've Been Had").

Stuffed with songs that ache with desperation, this fascinating set provides a compelling introduction to Uncle Tupelo's visceral, warts'n'all sound.