It’s been almost fifteen years since the Great Uncle Tupelo Schism rocked the music world. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate. Outside of Belleville, Illinois and the minds and hearts of a few thousand dedicated fans, probably not many people even noticed. But I did, and I mourned for a couple years before the first Wilco and Son Volt albums appeared. The chief protagonists, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, have certainly moved on to bigger and better things in the intervening years – Tweedy with Wilco, and Farrar with Son Volt. But, truth be told, as much as I like them now, I liked them better when they were alternating songs on classic albums like No Depression and Anodyne.
There are apparently others who remember as well. Here are two bands who have chosen sides in the schism, but who capture that early Uncle Tupelo energy nonetheless. And when you put the two CDs together and play them in shuffle mode, you’d swear that it was 1993.
Southeast Engine – A Wheel Within a Wheel
Representing the Wilco side of the schism we have Athens, Ohio’s Southeast Engine, and lead singer/songwriter Adam Remnant, who does a more than passable Tweedy impersonation. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Adam Remnant is a pseudonym, because there are more biblical allusions here than in the entire U2 catalogue, starting with the opening rocker “Taking the Fall” and continuing right on through the final track “Let It Be So,” which sounds like The Partridge Family (complete with ba-ba-ba-dah chorus) discovering the Book of Revelation. There’s an openness and vulnerability that makes it all more than palatable, though, and when Adam sings the asshole-returning-to-Jesus confessional ballad “God, Let Me Back In,” his voice cracking like Tweedy’s in all the right places, there is a world of hurt in those straightforward lines. This is unironic, poetic Jesus Americana. Tweedy pulled it off with “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” Southeast Engine pulls it off for forty minutes here. (Out October 16th on Misra Records)
Macon Greyson – 20th Century Accidents
Representing the Son Volt side of the schism we have Dallas’s Macon Greyson, and lead singer/songwriter Buddy Huffman, who has Jay Farrar’s craggy, soulful tenor down to a sadsack science. There are times when it’s impossible to tell them apart. Like the early Son Volt albums, Macon Greyson’s songs alternate between blistering roots rockers and country-inflected ballads. The ballads are just fine, and showcase Huffman’s social conscience and better-than-average lyrical gifts. But this band really shines on the rockers, where they take the no-frills ethos of the best bar bands and kick it right into the back alley. The bluesy Stones swagger of “Black Light” may offer the best Keith Richards guitar lick since “Brown Sugar,” and the sturdy power chords of the title track and “Minnesota Weather Map” will have the air guitarists pumping their fists. It’s straightforward rock ‘n roll for the millionth time, and, as is the case with all such miracles, it sounds utterly fresh and vital. (Out October 9th on Fat Caddy Records)