the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

Uncle Tupelo Breaks with Rock Tradition

John Kenyon

The Gazette, September 4, 1992

When Uncle Tupelo was poised on the verge of stardom after the release of two critically acclaimed, independently released albums, they went on to sign a huge major-label contract for 10 skidillion dollars and vaulted to the top of the charts, right?

Wrong. Instead, Uncle Tupelo recorded an album of stripped-down acoustic music, mostly traditional songs from a bygone era. The Belleville, Ill., band titled it "March 16-20, 1992," after the dates it was recorded. Not a Guns N' Roses tall stack mind you, but enough to keep the major labels on their tail.

"We thought this might put the labels off a bit," said bass player-vocalist Jeff Tweedy.

One group it didn't seem to put off are fans and friends. "The response has been pretty good," he said. "I expected more people to say we were crazy."

The leap wasn't a giant one for the band. Its two previous releases, "No Depression" and "Still Feel Gone" were peppered with songs stylistically similar to those found on "March." But the other side of the coin reveals songs that are perhaps best described as a three-way fusion of punk, folk and country, songs that often start and stop like a new driver mastering a clutch.

Thematically its own songs echo traditional songs of the depression. Its biggest criticism is that the band is too depressing and too weary, especially considering that members of the trio are all in their 20s.

That aspect of the band is at the fore on "March," with originals like "Grindstone" sharing time with traditional songs like "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down," and the Louvin Brothers' apocalyptic gem "Atomic Power."

"Our parents are responsible for the country influence. There were always lots of guitars around family gatherings," Tweedy said. "And the easiest place to find a great song is in country and folk music - everything is there.

"But at the same time we still love punk rock."

Tweedy said he likes the new album better than the other two, but "I will eventually get sick of it. We were worried that it might be too slick, but I am surprised it turned out as well as it did."

The "we" Tweedy refers to are himself and Jay Farrar, Uncle Tupelo's guitar player. The two have played together since high school in Belleville near St. Louis, and split songwriting and vocal chores. With drummer Mike Heidorn, they started as a "garage band of the classic variety."

(Head Candy plays at Gabe's Oasis in Iowa City Thursday with Uncle Tupelo and The Bishops)

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