Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression and Opinions on Black Keys & Lykke Li

No Depression

With its innovative fusion of traditional folk and country with punk and rock ‘n’ roll, Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression is a genuine milestone in American music, inspiring countless bands and defining what we today call alt-country. Jim and Greg talk to Uncle Tupelo’s drummer Mike Heidorn about the 1990 release and its recent reissue. Later, they review new records by Swedish singer Lykke Li and American rockers The Black Keys.

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The song contest/political science experiment called Eurovision took place on Saturday. Jim and Greg have been looking forward to the weird and wonderful phenomenon since speaking with expert John Kennedy O’Connor last month—and Eurovision 2014 did not disappoint. This year’s prize went to Rise Like a Phoenix, a power ballad belted by Austrian diva Conchita Wurst, the drag persona of Mr. Thomas Neuwirth. But the real star of the evening? Politics. Though some considered Wurst’s win a victory for tolerance, it outraged conservatives in countries like Russia and Belarus. Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine turned the conflict over Crimea into a fight for the spotlight, and the audience showed disdain for Putin by booing the Russian act. Americans may not get Eurovision, but 180 million viewers can’t be all wrong…

In other bizarre international news is a story from the New York Times. Apparently the people of China have gotten used to saying goodbye—or, more to the point, get out!—to the dulcet tones of one Kenny G. All across China, the elevator jazz giant’s 1989 hit Going Home is played at malls, gyms, libraries, and even wedding banquets to signal the day’s end. Many don’t know the song’s name, but they know to pack up and leave once it starts playing. And while China’s non-existent royalty policy means that the sax-man makes very little off his ubiquitous tune, Kenny has taken it in stride, joking that at Chinese concerts, he plays Going Home last to keep people from leaving early. Greg thinks that China has managed some impressive social engineering—almost Pavlovian, says Jim. But our hosts can sympathize: Hearing Kenny G makes them evacuate the premises, too.

Mike Heidorn of Uncle Tupelo

You can trace alternative country’s roots to the 1960’s when rock musicians such as Gram Parsons, The Byrds and the Flatlanders began dabbling with and reinvigorating country music. It was part of a wider investigation of American roots music in rock, a move toward more authentic styles. These rockers looked to country greats like Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard for inspiration— Bob Dylan famously collaborated with Cash on Girl From the North Country. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, a new generation of punk rockers started digging into traditional country for inspiration, including X, The Mekons, Rank & File, Jason and the Scorchers and the Long Ryders. Then third wave of alt country hit in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, led by The Jayhawks out of Minneapolis and Uncle Tupelo, the trio of Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heidorn, out of Belleville, Illinois, just outside St. Louis. Uncle Tupelo’s debut album, No Depression, took its name from a Carter Family song, No Depression in Heaven, and it’s one of many the key albums in defining the alt-country movement of this era. We have this band to thank for groups like Farrar’s Son Volt, Tweedy’s Wilco, Ryan AdamsWhiskeytown, the Drive-By-Truckers and the Old 97’s …and not to mention No Depression Magazine. Legacy Recordings recently reissued No Depression, complete with some never before released demo tracks from 1987 to 1989. And to talk about it, Jim and Greg are joined by Uncle Tupelo’s founding drummer Mike Heidorn.

Turn Blue The Black Keys

Turn Blue

The Black Keys have grown from an underground band from Akron, Ohio to an act filling arenas across the country. The sound has changed as well. On Turn Blue, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have evolved from a Zeppellin-esque blues stomp to something more nuanced, orchestrated and keyboard-based. Jim thinks the band is mainly successful when it channels psychedelic blues. But, he wants more stomp and says Try It rating. Greg is even less enthusiastic about Turn Blue and thinks that some of the experimentation is half-baked. Still, he likes the high points, and there are enough of them to warrant a Try It rating, as well.

I Never Learn Lykke Li

I Never Learn

Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li blends acoustic rock with electronic elements and heartfelt lyrics. Her latest album, I Never Learn, was eagerly anticipated by Jim and Greg, as both were fans of her last release Wounded Rhymes. Jim thinks this latest effort is just short of a masterpiece. He’s particularly drawn to the juxtaposition of the emotional lyrics and the spare arrangements. Buy It, he says. Greg is as so spellbound. He’s let down by Lykke Li’s lyrics and wishes she went back to a slightly more orchestrated style to mask her discomfort with English. He gives the record a Try It rating.

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