At this point in alt-country's evolution, there's no question that the number of people who've heard of the pioneering Uncle Tupelo—through association with its two offspring, Wilco and Son Vol

At this point in alt-country's evolution, there's no question that the number of people who've heard of the pioneering Uncle Tupelo—through association with its two offspring, Wilco and Son Volt—is considerably larger than the number of folks who've actually heard the band, let alone those who actually own copies of its Rockville (and lone Sire/ Reprise) albums. For many, it's not for a lack of trying. The Rockville sets (No Depression, 1990; Still Feel Gone, 1991; and March 16-20, 1992—all of which are to be reissued by Columbia/ Legacy either this fall or next year) haven't exactly been all that accessible in recent years. But since former members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy won control of their masters—through a lawsuit settled out of court last summer—the tide has begun to turn with this excellent retrospective, which compiles previously unavailable songs (including the Tweedy-sung cover of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog") with remastered material from demos, seven-inches, and all the band's albums. For those who've discovered this now-defunct Belleville, Ill., act through Tweedy's Wilco (see story, page 1) and Farrar's Son Volt, it would seem the two are the most unlikely of singing partners. And indeed they were. Farrar was grim, conjuring images of Heaven and Hell, barstoools and bottles in a hardened monotone. The yin to Farrar's yang, the warm Tweedy, meanwhile, was sometimes romantic, sometimes fun. Though the two were somehow able to gel vocally, the band was less a collaboration than a venue in which Farrar sang his songs and Tweedy sang his. Anthology, as a result, is as schizophrenic as the band itself was, leaping from Tweedy's sweet strummer "Screen Door" to Farrar's punk-driven "Graveyard Shift." Although Uncle Tupelo was regarded primarily as Farrar's band—he was considered the more accomplished writer, and, accordingly, Anthology, like each of the band's sets, is dominated by his songs and voice—it's Tweedy's songs that account for many of the disc's best and more upbeat moments ("New Madrid," "Gun," "We've Been Had"). Farrar is no slouch. It's just that many of his songs—even to fans—are just so damn depressing. "Moonshiner," for example, should surely make a few newcomers weep. While he may have had the songwriting edge—as Tweedy admits in Anthony DeCurtis' wonderfully on-target liner notes, one element to an award-deserving package—Anthology only emphasizes that both wrote surprisingly timeless and genre-defying songs as very young men. Consider the Uncle Tupelo myth both justified and fueled here.—WO