‘A.M.’ – Looking Back on Wilco’s Debut Album
Not too long after alt-country heroes Uncle Tupelo broke up in late 1994, the first album by one of the band’s two singer-songwriters surfaced. But it wasn’t the one Tupelo fans were waiting for. From the start, the band’s chief singer and songwriter was Jay Farrar; Jeff Tweedy, the other one, began declaring his independence on the group’s last album, the great ‘Anodyne.’ And it was Farrar’s new band, Son Volt, that everyone was anticipating, not Tweedy’s Wilco.
But Wilco got their album out first. ‘A.M.’ was released on March 28, 1995. Son Volt’s ‘Trace’ came out six months later. And even though both albums contained the same dusty, twangy Americana Uncle Tupelo were known for, ‘Trace,’ unsurprisingly, became the hit. It barely cracked the chart, stopping at No. 160. But that was better than ‘A.M.,’ which didn’t chart at all. Fans and critics lined up behind Son Volt. ‘Trace’ was and is the better record.
Still, there’s nothing terribly wrong with ‘A.M.’ It pretty much sounds like an entire album of Tweedy’s Uncle Tupelo songs. A couple of Tupelo members play on the record, so that’s expected. And Tweedy had yet to shake off the alt-country dirt and head into the braver, darker territories that he eventually lead Wilco. Solid tracks like ‘Casino Queen,’ ‘Box Full of Letters’ and ‘Passenger Side’ have even been expanded and reconfigured onstage. Really, no one anticipated anything more.
Which is why when Wilco returned the following year with the two-disc epic ‘Being There,’ featuring only a couple of songs with a twangy aftertaste, it came as a pleasant gift to longtime fans. Especially after the next Son Volt album turned out to be a boring snoozefest. Tweedy continued to shape Wilco into different bands in the years since ‘A.M.’’s release. Their 2002 album, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’ is a new-millennium classic, and the band’s reputation as one of the best live acts on the planet has steadily grown over the years. ‘A.M.’ is their humble start.
Listen to Wilco's 'Box Full of Letters'