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Uncle Tupelo's Style Fuses Rock, Country Spirit

Jae-Ha Kim

Chicago Sun Times, March 25, 1994

Seven years and four albums after their punk beginning, the musicians in Uncle Tupelo have come a long way from their simplistic start ("I drink Stag/Yeah/I drink Stag").

At Wednesday's sold-out concert at Lounge Ax -- the second of three consecutive nights there -- the rock band from Belleville ambled through an enjoyable set that showed that while their roots may be punk, their mindset today is ensconced in the true spirit of country.

We're talking classics such as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, not Garth Brooks. All in their mid-20s, the musicians in Uncle Tupelo learned well from their idols. The country touches were sparing -- a twang here, some rhythms there -- but well appropriated.

Uncle Tupelo had beautifully shown their love for country and folk melodies on the Peter Buck-produced acoustic album "March 16-20, 1992." But it wasn't until their current CD "Anodyne" that fans got a true taste of how well they could fuse country and rock 'n' roll.

"Anodyne," recorded in a studio live with no overdubs, is an honest representation of how Uncle Tupelo sounds live. The band shares the relaxed performing style that marked some of the best Replacements concerts. Performing doesn't begin until each musician is ready, even if that means leaving awkward pauses between songs.

Though the cramped quarters left more than a few fans oxygen-deprived, no one seemed to mind the discomfort. The fans packed into Lounge Ax loved everything about Uncle Tupelo, singing and dancing along.

As the nucleus of the five-piece band, guitarists Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy easily led the group through its repertoire. Farrar has a moody, longing voice that gently adapts to different styles. On the heartbreaking favorite "The Long Cut," Farrar mesmerized with the plain, provocative lyrics: "If you want to take the long cut/I think that's what we need/If you want to take the long cut/We'll get there eventually."

Those same words could be used to describe Uncle Tupelo's career. The group took chances in mixing genres that don't necessarily go together. But by doing what felt right to them, the musicians created music that sounds so right to us.

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