“I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” (Wilco Cover)

By Chris Moore:

It’s no secret that I’ve been going through a Wilco phase recently.  And, by phase, I mean that I wasn’t really familiar with the band until a couple months ago.  I had read about the band a bit in music magazines, and I had read quotes by band frontman Jeff Tweedy, which I generally found interesting.  So, I finally found a copy of their critically acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album and decided to give it a spin.

And instantly loved it.

Ever since, I’ve been listening to alot of other music, but I’ve gone back to Wilco every time.  In the past two months, I’ve gone on an odyssey to discover as much about them as possible.  This has involved reading Wikipedia posts, skimming music magazines, and browsing through numerous CD store racks and used album bins.  In the process, I’ve found affordable copies of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s predecessor, Summerteeth (which is the origin of the song I just added to the members-only section, which you should definitely check out soon!), and their first album, A.M.

Now, it’s not that Wilco is my new favorite band of all-time, by any means.  But there is a certain excitement that accompanies fresh territory, striking out into a land that is unusual and can present unexpected ideas, sounds, etc.  For instance, I learned all about Uncle Tupelo — a band I had heard OF but had never actually HEARD — because Uncle Tupelo, minus one member, became the first incarnation of Wilco.

But, I guess that’s a story for another time.

Suffice it to say that Uncle Tupelo is credited with founding the “alt-country” genre that I didn’t even know existed until recently.  As Tweedy progressed, he became more and more experimental with his music, particularly after the first couple Wilco albums.  He seems like an interesting musical figure to me, as he embodies that rock songwriter ideal; he has made some great music, and from many reports, he can be a bit of a jerk.  For instance, members of Wilco have been essentially summarily dismissed to make way for new musicians with new sounds to bring to the process.  While this may not make for pleasant interpersonal relationships, it has certainly made for some interesting musical variations and evolution in the band.

When I think of this song and this album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in particular, I am reminded, to a degree, of some of the classic albums that have initially been criticized or even rejected by record company executives.  In this case, the hype surrounding the making of the album seems to have only aided and increased its eventual popularity.  Essentially, as Wilco recorded this album, but the powers-that-be needed to make some cuts at the label, so they released the band.  There are several conflicting stories, but the end result is that Wilco got to keep the recordings and rights to the then-new material, going on to another division of Warner Bros. to officially produce and release the album.  This caused a bit of a stir in the record industry at the time — particularly the public perception of the label’s treatment of this fairly longstanding act — and even though I wasn’t nearly as interested in music industry news as I am now, I remember something about this at the time.

The track I chose for tonight is the opening song, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”  For better or worse, my version does not do justice to the studio version, which you should definitely listen to; for that matter, you should definitely listen to the album!  But, when I discovered that Jeff Tweedy does an acoustic version of this song in his acoustic sets, I couldn’t resist.  It’s a great song that sets the tone remarkably well for the album to follow.

I hope you enjoy my version and that you hurry back in the next couple days for Jeff and Jim.

See you next session!

“Screen Door” (Uncle Tupelo Acoustic Alt-Country Cover)

By Chris Moore:

Well, there’s a first time for everything.  And I feel pretty confident as I write this that I am, indeed, the first of the Laptop Sessioneers to record a song from the alternative country genre.  This is “Screen Door,” a song from band Uncle Tupelo, which is credited with being one of the pioneers of the alt-country genre.

Even as I write this, I have to chuckle a bit.  I mean, truly, how many different genres can the music industry possibly conceive?  How many categories do we really need?  It’s not quite alternative.  It’s not quite country.  Let’s call it “Alternative Country”!

What’s next, Alternative Pop?

Classical Ska?

But, seriously, I find this all very interesting.  I first heard Uncle Tupelo a couple months ago when I bought their essential tracks compilation 89/93: An Anthology.  How does one find oneself motivated to buy an alt country album?  Well, you may be aware that I’ve recently discovered and really gotten into the band Wilco.  And, if you know me, you know that I need to know the broad history and backstories of bands that I get into.

So, let’s step back for a moment.  Uncle Tupelo was active between 1987 and 1994, originally comprised of lead songwriter and singer Jay Farrar, his brothers Wade and Dade, and Jeff Tweedy.  Tweedy quickly progressed into a second songwriter and lead singer of the band.  His influence was two-fold — he was responsible for booking a lot of early gigs and, through several name changes before arriving at this one and multiple band member additions and replacements, he advocated for the punk rock sound that he had been impressed with when he initially heard Farrar and his brothers play.  Dade disagreed and left the band shortly after Tweedy’s arrival.

Eventually, as the tale goes, tensions developed between Farrar and Tweedy over which direction the music should go until, finally, Farrar announced that he would be leaving the band.  They played their final gig in 1994, and Farrar went off to form a new band, Son Volt.  Meanwhile, Tweedy and all the other members of Uncle Tupelo reformed under the name Wilco.

So, after a lengthy explanation, there you have it — my interest in Wilco’s roots found me in the checkout line at Borders New Britain, Uncle Tupelo CD in hand.  Ironically, one of my favorite songs on the album is merely a demo — a rough, but fully arranged track titled “Outdone.”  Another song that got my interest is the first track on the compilation.  “No Depression,” also the title of their debut album, is a song written and originally performed by the Carter Family (then referred to as “No Depression in Heaven”).  Now, in 1936, “the Depression” had an entirely different meaning than it did for Uncle Tupelo in 1990.  I love how this song was able to survive and take on a new meaning.

I still haven’t taken the time to check out Son Volt, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge fan of Uncle Tupelo, really.  I am rapidly becoming an avid Jeff Tweedy and Wilco fan.  Even Wilco’s debut album (A.M. in 1995), which Tweedy himself referred to as their attempt to “tread some water with a perceived audience,” is head and shoulders above the Uncle Tupelo CD, in my humble opinion.  I can’t believe I’ve only heard three of the six Wilco studio albums…

Lots more to look forward to!

Without further ado, I’ll let you get to the actual video.  I chose “Screen Door” because it’s deceptively simple.  It could be taken as a Southern anthem about people sitting on their front porches, singing songs, and dealing with the heat.  However, the chorus adds an interesting angle — “We don’t care what happens outside the screen door,” Tweedy sings.  It’s an interesting social statement that I think applies in all parts of the country.  In New England, for instance, it may not be the screen door, but we certainly have developed a sense of apathy for those who pass by us, outside our circle of friends, family, and colleagues.

And now I’ll actually let the song speak for itself.  Don’t forget to rush back tomorrow for another all-new session with Jeff…

See you next session!