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Uncle Tupelo
No Depression

by Samuel Barker
March 6, 2001

File Under: Country/Punk/Folk
rating: A+
tracks
1. Graveyard Shift
2. That Year
3. Before I Break
4. No Depression
5. Factory Belt
6. Whiskey Bottle
7. Outdone
8. Train
9. Life Worth Livin' 
10. Flatness
11. So Called Friend
12. Screen Door
13. John Hardy
related links
  • Uncle Tupelo
  • Some of you may ask why I'm writing a review of Uncle Tupelo's 1990 debut album, No Depression. Some of you may ask why I'm writing a review of an album that is currently out of print. The answer to these two questions is simple, this is one of the most influencial albums ever made.

    Most of you who are reading this will probably be able to recognize the names of the two bands who have come out of Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt and Wilco, and you may be aware of how great both bands can be on their own. But for those of you who haven't heard this album, you are missing out on one of the best albums ever made. No Depression is so influencial that THE alt. country magazine has taken the same name.

    Coming out of a suffering midwest town in the late 80's, Uncle Tupelo offered up a unique mixure of folky roots rock, old style country, and straight ahead punk. Songwriters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy combined talents to write some of the best songs ever written, and to blaze a new trail for musicians everywhere.

    Combining a dislike of the Nashville commercial country, a pure punk ethic, and genuine musical/songwriting talents, Uncle Tupelo set the standard for all country/punk bands to follow. Few have attempted and fewer have suceeded in following the footsteps laid by Uncle Tupelo.

    From the opening notes of "Graveyard Shift" to the final notes of "John Hardy", No Depression is 100% American music. Combining tales of small town life when all the jobs leave, periods of drunken despiration, and an old style country-ish tale of an outlaw.

    "On liquor I spent my last dime" sings Jay Farrar at the beginning of the rocker, "Before I Break". As you can expect this song leads you through a tale of falling down and despirately trying to find a way to make it through. The mood then shifts to the downtrodden life of working in their hometown of Belleville, Missouri in "Factory Belt". It's a great tale of wanting to leave behind the daily struggles of labor for a quick exit to a better life. As Farrar sings in the song "Don't want to go to the grave without a sound."

    One of the more mellow, touching songs on the album is "Whiskey Bottle". This song is near and dear to the hearts of most that hear it. It's a grim reminder we all need a crutch when life turns for the worse. This follows right into a later track, "Life Worth Livin'" which is a great closing argument.

    As the song states, "We're all looking for a life worth livin', that's why we drink ourselves to sleep, we're all looking for a life worth livin', that's why we pray for our souls to keep."

    A great testament to the dreams of your average working man.

    Belleville, Missouri is as much a part of Uncle Tupelo's music as it is a part of Tweedy, Farrar, and drummer Mike Heidorn. By growing up, playing ball, and then playing music as part of their hometown community they saw the heartache and sadness brought by the failure of the local factories. This is what makes No Depression such a great album, it's real life tales told by real people.

    One of my favorite songs on the album is Jeff Tweedy's ode to relaxing and enjoying what you've got, "Screen Door."

    As it states, "Down here, where we're at, All we do is sit on the prch and play our songs and nothing's wrong. Sometimes out friends come around, they all sing along.....Down here, where we're at, everybody is equally poor. Down here, we don't care, We don't care what happens outside the screen door."

    This further gives you an idea as to what the mindset is for Uncle Tupelo. They're an American bands singing about American problems from America's heartland. It's not trumped up nostalgia or patriotism, it's a tale of how life really is. As I read Jay Farrar told a cop in his hometown who couldn't believe they said bad things about Belleville, "I told him, 'We still live here.' That says about as much as you need to know about how we feel about this town"

    Editor's Note:
    I must urge everyone of you who read this to a) get this album off of eBay or b) get this album off of Napster or c) get it the second it gets reprinted. Have no moral quams about Napster, Rockville never gave Uncle Tupelo any royalties for this album!

    Samuel Barker is Senior Editor. Contact him at suma@rockzone.com.

    Let us know what you think.


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