Uncle Tupelo – Still Feel Gone

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I once saw a Jeff Tweedy solo show at the Lounge Ax. I forget the year, but it was before Wilco got big. Some guy in the audience (which wasn’t even that sizeable) shouted out “No Tupelo!” – not that Tweedy had yet played any Uncle Tupelo songs. It’s possible the shouter meant it as encouragement – that Tweedy should be confident in his own, new material. At any rate, Tweedy, not immediately but shortly thereafter, launched into an Uncle Tupelo number (I don’t remember which one), and afterwards, he angrily declared “They’re my songs, too.” Uncle Tupelo formed in Belleville, Illinois in the early 1980s, starting as a cover band called The Plebes and then the Primatives (or possibly, the Primitives). When they changed their name in the late ‘80’s, they began writing their own material. Four albums later, songwriters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy’s relationship ruptured, and Farrar formed Son Volt while Tweedy created Wilco.

What I Think of This Album

I much prefer this second album to debut No Depression, which title notwithstanding, was an difficult examination of a bleak, bored, rural Rust Belt existence, with multiple songs about alcohol abuse, and where the most uplifting number – the excellent cover of the Carter Family’s “No Depression In Heaven” – suggested that the only escape was death. That album was also dominated by Jay Farrar and is the Tupelo disc that most honors their punk roots (indeed, hardcore roots, judging from the oppressive rhythms).

On Still Feel Gone, the band gets more melodic and less tightly wound (though this is not a band that seems to know how to have fun at all). Too, both songwriters have grown. They better channel their punk fury – note the pounding drums at the end of “Fall Down Easy” (excellent job, Mike Heidorn!) or the guitar noise of “Looking for a Way Out” – into pop structures and seem more comfortable with country instrumentation and arrangement. The stop-start dynamics are still present (particularly on “Postcard” and appropriately on tribute to “D. Boon” of the Minutemen) but they don’t overwhelm.

In general, Farrar sounds less angry and considerably wiser, accepting without being resigned. His work on the spare, vulnerable, alcohol-soaked “Still Be Around” is amazing, and his emotional vocal on “Punch Drunk” is incomparable. Too, he adds grace and heft to the fatalistic but not hopeless “True to Life” (with Bottle Rocket Brian Henneman on guitar).

Tweedy gets many more songs this time, and they generally go down easier than Farrar’s. It’s arguable that he proves to be the better songwriter this time. I’m obviously looking at it from the wrong end, but you can hear the seeds of Wilco here, particularly on “Nothing” and “If That’s Alright.” Neither of these, as good as they are, can compete with rumbly opener “Gun.” And the nimble “Watch Me Fall” – with guitar from Jawhawk Gary Louris and a subtle accordion, organ, and banjo backing – is phenomenal, and the off-beat drum hits/guitar strums at 1:27 are positively joy-inducing. Also, “Cold Shoulder” is an affecting realization that the person you love doesn’t love you.

Louris plays guitar on three songs total, and Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie produced (with Slade contributing piano and organ).

I have the Legacy reissue, which came out in 2003 after Farrar and Tweedy won the rights to the songs from original label Rockville. The disc adds five bonus tracks – mostly demos – all enjoyable, including an excellent cover of the Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy You” and downer original “Sauget Wind,” which makes me think of the Byrds’ “Hickory Wind” and more importantly, deserved to have been included on the album proper. The liner notes are by accomplished author/producer/editor/archivist/curator Holly George Warren.

The Best Thing About This Album

Probably “Gun,” but “Watch Me Fall” is a close contender.

Release Date

September, 1991 (original); March, 2003 (reissue)

The Cover Art

I don’t know. On the one hand, I like the color and the font, as well as the use of texture, but on the other, the image (a cropped shot of the band on stage) is murky.

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