For Anyone That’s Listening
A Tribute to Uncle Tupelo
To steal some of this album’s liner note thunder: Uncle Tupelo were the ultimate indie rock cover band. It’s not that they didn’t have enough quality material of their own from which to draw; Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar just happened to be equally good at adapting songs as disparate as the traditional folk of “Moonshiner” and the Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy You,” fitting them seamlessly into Uncle Tupelo’s amped-up country template. This being the case, an Uncle Tupelo tribute album was inevitable — and to my knowledge this is the first of its kind.
The bands here favor the restrained, reflective side of Uncle Tupelo over the punk-ish fervor. Even hard chargers like “Gun,” in the hands of Sixty Acres, sacrifice the distortion and crank the plaintive lament up to ten.
The main problem with this album as a whole is the unadventurous song interpretations. A good two-thirds of the bands play it so close to the source material that their versions are largely superfluous and inferior to the originals. It’s nice to hear female voices on some of Farrar’s best compositions though •- “Graveyard Shift,” “Slate,” “True to Life” •- as it’s nearly impossible for any male voice to compete with Farrar’s eternally weary growl.
Mark McKay and The Bad Souls’ “Fatal Wound,” Ed Patterson’s “Coalminers,” Dolly Varden’s “Steal the Crumbs” and the aforementioned “Gun” are the songs which actually distinguish themselves from the pack. “Fatal Wound” works well with its filthy tape hiss and swelling choruses. “Screen Door,” with its lounge-y jazz feel, fits with the song’s playful lyrics but ultimately doesn’t appeal to me.
The year 2003 was ripe with Uncle Tupelo re-issues and Jay Farrar’s new album. If you’ve exhausted all of these and you’re still jonesing for another CD to file away, you should consider checking this out. If you’re a newbie, buy Anodyne, re-read this review a year from now and make up your mind then.
Flat Earth Records: http://www.flatearthrecords.com/