This weekend was the 21st annual Twangfest, the alternative-country showcase in St. Louis, where the genre’s modern development coalesced in the early 1990s.
The movement was catapulted by Uncle Tupelo. Others had fused country and rock, but Tupelo cooked ’70s and ’80s underground with classic country, with raw, dogged results. The world needed a mix of Husker Du and Hank Williams. It just didn’t know it yet.
For their fourth album they enlisted the patron saint of hippie-Tex-Mex music, Doug Sahm, who had been part of country-rock’s earlier metamorphosis in early ’70s Austin. Sahm lent lead vocals on Uncle Tupelo’s cover his 1976 song “Give Back the Key to My Heart.” (And continuing with this blog’s studio-chatter theme of the week, Sahm mumbles into the mic to start the recording.)
“Anodyne” ended up as Uncle Tupelo’s swan song. Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy split into separate directions, launching projects as the leaders of Son Volt and Wilco. “Anodyne” remains a landmark, one of Rolling Stone’s “1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die,” and a personal top-10 for me.
Without Uncle Tupelo, there is no Twangfest, no “No Depression,” and the last quarter century’s musical landscape looks entirely different.