Uncle Tupelo often is credited with launching the '90s alt-country scene -- an update on '60s folk-rock and '80s cowpunk -- but gathering steam around the same time was Freakwater, which arrived in 1989 with a sound that revived the spirit of the Carter Family and other Appalachian-style groups.
At its core were singers Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean, who doubled as drummer for the Chicago psych-rock band Eleventh Dream Day. But Freakwater wasn't a spinoff.
"I was playing with Catherine before Eleventh Dream Day, so it was really the other way around," she says. "What drew me to Eleventh Dream Day was that I met Rick [Rizzo] and fancied him. Catherine and I played in punk-rock type bands in Louisville in the very early '80s. We became friends and started singing folk/country tunes just for fun. The two worlds seemed natural to us, I guess."
And sometimes the two worlds collided.
"I guess people seemed a bit stumped at the start when we were opening for Eleventh Dream Day in the mid '80s."
Freakwater never rose to Uncle Tupelo status, but the group did sign to Thrill Jockey in the early '90s and built a following and critical acclaim for its six records, the most recent being 2005's "Thinking of You ...." Freakwater is now on tour, celebrating the re-release of its Thrill Jockey debut, "Feels Like the Third Time."
"It was our first Thrill Jockey record so we had a bigger budget, which was also kind of new to us," she says. "By bigger I mean in hundreds rather than thousands."
The group will play the record in its entirety, while touching on songs that highlight the band's slight progression over the years.
"I guess I would say we have improved, although it could be such an imperceptible increment achieved over a glacial time that it is not easily recognized by the common ear. I am sure, though, that a bat, had it seen our first show and then our show last night in Ann Arbor, would have sensed improvement."
Meanwhile, Eleventh Dream Day, one of the great undiscovered bands of its era, still lives. It released an album, "Riot Now," two years ago and toured Europe and the States. It's about to start working on a new album and has another new/old project in the works.
"We recorded the songs, which ended up on our Atlantic record 'El Moodio,' first at Idful with Brad [Wood]. This was during a contractual lapse with Atlantic. The sessions were great and had tunes that we did not end up recording for the Atlantic version. We are releasing this as 'New Moodio.' I'm super psyched. I would say we have an audience similar to FW, small but hugely enthusiastic and supportive. I like it that way."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.