the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

Rock 'n' Country 'n' Uncle Tupelo a Natural Combination

John Moran

Hartford Courant, February 26, 1994

Fusion rocks, at least when Uncle Tupelo is welding traditional country with butt-kickin' thrash rock.

The band from Bellville, Ill., made that arresting musical combination seem only natural Thursday during a fine performance at Toad's Place in New Haven.

Although five musicians are onstage, Uncle Tupelo is essentially a vehicle for the talents of Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, who co-write all the material and handle vocals.

Their tunes are mostly tight numbers with varied tempos and often pessimistic themes, reflected in such titles as "No Sense in Lovin'," "We've Been Had" and "Fatal Wound."

But the music itself is often surprisingly tuneful, as the country elements of fiddle, banjo or mandolin play out against crash cymbals and amplifier distortion.

A good example was a moody ballad called "Anodyne," the title cut from the band's latest release. The song began with Farrar's plaintive vocals against a slow country shuffle with a pedal-steel guitar backing. Tweedy chipped in with some nice harmonies. (The dictionary, by the way, defines anodyne as "anything that relieves pain or soothes.")

The country overtones were reinforced with "Give Back the Key to My Heart." The song was written by Texas songwriter Doug Sahm, who joined Uncle Tupelo on the album. In concert, it was a bouncy tune about a classic country heartbreak, but it also benefitted from the strong backbeat of drummer Ken Coomer.

Uncle Tupelo showed a harder edge on "Whisky Bottle," a depressing tune told from the perspective of a man desperately needing drink to get through the day. Farrar's vocals reflected well the passion and the despair.

Another example was "The Wild Cut," also from the "Anodyne" album. Tweedy's rough vocals and pounding bass guitar lines helped the tune live up to its name.

The band mixed moods and tempos well during its 90-minute performance before a relatively sparse crowd, generally composed of Yale University students who walked across the quad to check it out.

Uncle Tupelo is doing well with the alternative rock/college-radio audience. But it might take another album or more before it finds broader appeal.

Los Angeles singer-songwriter Joe Henry and his Swinging Steaks backup band opened Thursday's concert. His ballads and medium-speed rock tunes -- accompanied at times by banjo, mandolin and pedal-steel -- were a good appetizer for Uncle Tupelo.

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