No Depression [Legacy Edition]

by: Uncle Tupelo

Within what would come to be known as the "alt-country" scene, Uncle Tupelo's first album, 1990's No Depression, was the shot heard 'round the world; they most certainly weren't the first band to fuse the heartache of country with the brains and brawn of punk rock, but they managed to bring the two styles together without camp or gimmicks, in a manner that truly honored both genres and allowed their shared celebration of passion and belief above all else to shine through, and its example would be followed by literally thousands of musicians across the country. Decades after it first hit the racks, No Depression still sounds like a truly inspired bit of record-making: Jay Farrar's songs carry the bulk of the album, and great songs they are, especially the charging "Graveyard Shift" and "Factory Belt," and the mournful "Whiskey Bottle" and "Life Worth Living." It would take a bit longer for Jeff Tweedy to start playing on an equal level, but the realistic yet impressionistic snapshots of "Train" and "Screen Door" made it clear he had the goods, and as a team, Tweedy, Farrar, and Michael Heidorn sound all but unstoppable here, tight as a drum and investing each song with a life-or-death level of emotional force. Sony/Legacy's 2014 Legacy Edition of No Depression offers a writ-large portrait of how this album (and that band that made it) came to be. Along with a handful of outtakes, singles sides, and live cuts, this release includes a bonus disc featuring the complete 1989 Not Forever, Just for Now demo, which includes ten of the songs that would appear on No Depression. In many ways, the demo sounds like a strong rough draft for the album that followed, with a bit less electric guitar punch and a shade more twang, but documenting performances that are essentially just as strong in terms of chops and commitment, while spotting the subtle differences in the arrangements, is where fans will have the most fun. The bonus disc also includes excerpts from two other early UT demos, including the otherwise unrecorded songs "Blues Die Hard" and "Pickle River," and if the performances and audio are rough, the spark that made the band instantly memorable is clearly there, and a 24-page booklet featuring lots of rare photos and excellent liner notes from Richard Byrne is the icing on the cake. If you're a longtime fan, upgrading to this edition of No Depression is well worth your time and money, and if you're not familiar with the group, this album will show you why Uncle Tupelo was a band who mattered so much to so many. ~ Mark Deming

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