the unofficial uncle tupelo archives
Critic's Choice/Pop Mending an Aching Heart
by Karen Schoemer
New York Times, December 10, 1993
"Anodyne," the title of Uncle Tupelo's new album, is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as a soothing or pain-relieving agent. For Uncle Tupelo, a trio from Belleville, Ill., who will perform this weekend in Hoboken, N.J., it's a code word for the kind of music that makes you feel better. The band's two lead singers and songwriters, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, have an obvious affinity for some of the most soul-stirring moments in country and rock history: "Anodyne" (Sire/ Reprise) has the rustic lilt of an old Hank Williams tune, the harmonic grace of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the loose rumble of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street."
From the pointedly unpolished production, crackling with fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel guitar, to songs like "Chickamauga" (named after the Civil War battle site), "Anodyne" is intentionally retro, an homage to mythically purer times. Mr. Farrar and Mr. Tweedy's allegiance to their roots borders on fetishism: they have even written an ode to Acuff-Rose, the company that published Hank Williams's material. "Name me a song that everybody knows, and I'll bet you it belongs to Acuff-Rose," Mr. Tweedy sings in his self-effacing twang.
"Anodyne" is certainly derivative, but Uncle Tupelo isn't seeking to reinvent its sources, merely to honor them. The album has the hushed heaviness of a small-town street at midnight, the scratchy simplicity of a 78-r.p.m. record. "Anodyne" is about loving music, about the release that comes from playing a favorite song over and over, and about the ability of rock-and-roll to stop up the gaps in a bleeding heart.
Uncle Tupelo is to perform at 10 tonight at Maxwell's, 1039 Washington Street, Hoboken, N.J. Admission: $8.
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