Looking For a Way Out: The Essential Jay Farrar & Jeff Tweedy

There was a time when Wilco's Jeff Tweedy was one half of a songwriting partnership in the band Uncle Tupelo (1987-1994). And there was a time when mentioning that to anyone in my vicinity would've been unnecessary, since we spent every waking minute talking about this band. His partner, and the actual founder of the band, Jay Farrar, was actually the meat behind the band. Tweedy wrote and sang about half of the songs, but it was Farrar who was widely considered the truest talent in the band. Whereas Farrar had the voice, the Faulkner-esque pen and the brawn, Tweedy was obsequious, in the shadow and still learning. UT released four fantastic records before Farrar departed the band in early 1994 and quickly formed Son Volt. Reports suggest that Tweedy was devastated by the split, but quickly rebounded, enlisting the remaining members of UT and forming Wilco.

The Beginnings of Uncle Tupelo, Belleville, Illinois

Most of us know what happened next. Son Volt put out a few critically acclaimed records (including the masterpiece Trace), and then Farrar waffled between a solo career and back to Son Volt, where he now stands. Wilco has gone on to become a force in the indie-rock world, packing venues, occasionally stadiums, and selling out shows the world over. And they've done so without watering down their art at all, something that only a handful of bands have accomplished in their careers. Both have dabbled in various side projects, including Farrar's Gob Iron and Tweedy's work in Golden Smog, Loose Fur and The Minus 5.

Uncle Tupelo's Final Show, Mississippi Nights, St. Louis, 5.1.94

These two kids from Belleville, Illinois who were once writing songs above a salon in their hometown (Yes, I went there and took the above picture of the apartment/writing spot) have both gone on to different levels of success, yet both have achieved a lot. Tweedy has certainly reached a wider audience, but both have released material following the split that is as good if not better than their work as a tandem. And with that said, for the first time, I have assembled compilations for each, spanning their work in all projects. And though this may sound sad, this is somewhat of a step for me. I can't count the number of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Son Volt mixes I've made over the years. But not once have I made a compilation that spans their entire careers.

I will not claim that these are their best songs. I will only say that after pairing them down, and down, and down again, these are the 17 songs I that remained for each.

There is one thing I can say without question: Although Springsteen, Dylan and The Beatles first opened my ears to music in the late 70's, it was the discovery of Uncle Tupelo in a small apartment on South Street in Brighton, Massachusetts in early 1994 that set off my explosive love for music. And since that afternoon, that love has never waned.

Son Volt @ The Paradise, Boston, 1995

The Essential Jay Farrar
Windfall (World Cafe)
The Direction
Too Early
Medicine Hat
Station To Station
Tear Stained Eye
Picking Up the Signal
Graveyard Shift
Driving the View
No Depression
Greenwich Time

Golden Smog @ Irving Plaza, New York City, 1998

The Essential Jeff Tweedy
The Long Cut
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Laminated Cat (Live)
Remember the Mountain Bed
Sunken Treasure
Black Eye
At My Window Sad & Lonely (Demo)
Handshake Drugs (Live)
Via Chicago
We've Been Had
Airline To Heaven (Live)
California Stars
Please Tell My Brother
Hate It Here