the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

Some Country-Rock So Fine You May Just Yell `Uncle'

Thor Christensen

Milwaukee Journal, March 22, 1994

To most people, "country- rock" means mellow music with a radio-friendly twang. We have the (soon-to-be-reunited) Eagles to blame for that.

The Belleville, Ill., band Uncle Tupelo gave a much more intriguing definition of country- rock to a packed Shank Hall on Monday night. Colliding hillbilly music with raging punk rock, the group sounded like the spawn of an unholy union between the Carter Family and the Clash.

On its last swing through town, a three-man Uncle Tupelo played up its punk side and toned down its Appalachian leanings. Monday night, however, the trio sounded like purebred mountain men.

With new member Max Johnston playing fiery banjo, fiddle and lap steel guitar, the concert took on the feel of a campfire hootenanny.

Uncle Tupelo knows the tangled roots of country music history. Bassist Jeff Tweedy sang a wicked hoedown titled "Acuff- Rose," in tribute to the great 1940s songwriting team of Roy Acuff and Fred Rose. The band also explored the darker side of country-gospel music: The man in "Whiskey Bottle" trades his savior for a swig of hooch.

Tweedy and guitarist Jay Farrar took turns singing solo lead, but some of the show's best moments came when Tweedy fused his raspy snarl with Farrar's more polished voice for the harmonies of "New Madrid" and Doug Sahm's "Give Back the Key to My Heart." Those songs, like many others heard during the 85-minute set, came from Uncle Tupelo's fourth album, "Anodyne."

Singer-guitarist Joe Henry and his backing quartet opened the show on a laid-back country note. Henry proved to be a fine vocalist with a feel for country ballads, midtempo folk tunes and very offbeat lyrics.

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