Wilco

A.M.

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Uncle Tupelo played their final show on May 1, 1994, and little more than a month later, the band's final lineup, minus co-founder Jay Farrar, was cutting an album under the name Wilco. The group's transition happened so quickly that frontman Jeff Tweedy hadn't even found a new lead guitarist when they set up in the studio -- Brian Henneman from the Bottle Rockets was drafted to play on the band's first sessions. Given all this, it should come as no surprise that Wilco's debut LP, 1995's A.M., is by far the one with the closest resemblance to Uncle Tupelo. The attack sounds more than a bit like the twangy roar of UT's final album, 1993's Anodyne, albeit with a brighter and better detailed mix, and many of the songs recall the melodic style of Tweedy's contributions to the former incarnation of the band. And Henneman's soloing serves a similar function to Jay Farrar's Neil Young-inspired leads in Uncle Tupelo, even if Henneman's playing has a leaner personality of its own. But stripped of the dour tone Farrar brought to the band and the occasionally strained seriousness of his outlook, A.M. sounds like this band is having a blast in a way they never had before. It's all but impossible to imagine Uncle Tupelo kicking up their heels with numbers like "I Must Be High," "Casino Queen," or "Box Full of Letters," and the interplay between the musicians -- Henneman on guitar, Tweedy on vocals and guitar, John Stirratt on bass, Ken Coomer on drums, and Max Johnson on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and Dobro -- feels playful and easygoing, even on sorrowful tunes like "I Thought I Held You" and "Should've Been in Love." And while Tweedy was still finding a more individual voice as a songwriter, "Dash 7" and "Too Far Apart" contain echoes of the sort of music Wilco would be making a few years later. A.M. beat Trace, the first album from Jay Farrar's Son Volt, into record shops by six months, but in the minds of many alt-country fans, Tweedy's album was the weaker effort. However, viewed in the context of Wilco's catalog more than 20 years on, A.M. sounds like the point where Jeff Tweedy and his collaborators let go of Uncle Tupelo and took a bold, smart step into their future.

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