Rebellious Jukebox IX: Tenement Ruth vs Uncle Tupelo

IMG_20150605_193123Originally published June 2013

Our great town was awash in bands like Tenement Ruth fifteen-twenty years ago. “Alternative Country ” was the coin of the realm, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat (gross!) without hitting somebody citing Johnny Cash & Nirvana as their main influences. Having trouble getting gigs? Put on a cowboy hat! The wave has long since crested, thankfully, which is why the Ruthies (does anybody call them that?) don’t sound like a boring re-tread on their vinyl debut. Well, that & the fact that they’re really good! There’s an undeniable twang in Melissa Anderson’s voice, but just listen to the way she emphasizes the “ger” in “a little longer” on side A’s “Dirty Carpet.” You can’t fake that. And you seldom hear anyone shredding a solo so unabashedly & unpredictably, yet never non-musically, as lead guitarist Dave Anderson. It’s like they take their country roots & rock/punk interests & make their own thing, which, duh, is what you’re *supposed* to do, but so rarely got done in that scene.
It’s not Uncle Tupelo’s fault that so many bands did so little with what they started (or if not started, at least popularized locally). The Tupes (did anyone call them that?) slipped out their first 45 after the surprising success of their “No Depression” album, and it was a snapshot of a band still weighing its options. Side A’s “I Got Drunk” is a raucous punk anthem whose lyrical subtext of regret was probably missed by a growing percentage of their audience, while their mellow take on “Sin City” shows their debts to the country-tinged rockers that came before them. You can’t really blame Uncle Tupelo for all the generic bands that sprung up in their wake, but you can thank them for the good ones.

Uncle Tupelo-I Got Drunk

Tenement Ruth-Dirty Carpet

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