Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last
This is reputedly the first in a series of solo acoustic releases from Jeff Tweedy. The aim is to reinterpret songs from throughout his career, showing the range and depth of his song-writing ability. This release is Wilco-focused. It contains three tracks from Summerteeth, two from both Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, and one from each of Sky Blue Sky and The Whole Love. Plus there’s also a couple of deep cuts from elsewhere, one from the self-titled Loose Fur album and one from Golden Smog’s Weird Tales. Pretty much anything by Jeff Tweedy is welcome and it’s great to hear any rendition of ‘Ashes Of American Flags’, ‘I Am Trying To Break You Heart’, and ‘Muzzle Of Bees’. But there’s a certain paradox at the heart of Together At Last. Here, like the songs on all good cover albums, there are reworked, reinvented, and reimagined versions of some long-time favourites. This is true for the YHF songs and particularly ‘Laminated Cat’ from the Loose Fur album. With just Tweedy and an acoustic guitar, the experimentation is gone. These sound like genuinely new creations. At the same time, though, this a very carefully delivered album. The mood is late night. The tone is hushed. The pace is even. Aurally, it is very coherent. The result is individual songs that are new and refreshed, but also a sense that everything has been compressed into one somewhat similar-sounding format. Yet enough of that. This is Jeff Tweedy. These are great songs. And this is the first of what is hopefully a suite of releases. At last.
Wilco – Schmilco
Around the time The Whole Love was released in 2011 Jeff Tweedy admitted that many people would greet the thought of a new Wilco album with a resounding ‘meh’. In fact, The Whole Love was a good album, containing one of the band’s finest tunes, ‘One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)’. Since then, though, Tweedy seems to have been trying to distance himself from that period of his musical career. The Alpha Mike Foxtrot retrospective in 2014 contained hardly any recent material. Star Wars, with its free download release last year, had a deliberate back-to-the-good-old-experimental-days vibe. And Schmilco is more than simply the latest in a string of dad-rock records too. It’s all starting to add up to a new era in Tweedy’s musical odyssey. One where he and the band are not trying to deliver anything desperately original, but where they’re not willing just to trot out one more variation on Wilco (The Album) after another either. That’s refreshing. Schmilco was recorded around the same time as Star Wars, but they’re very different beasts. Here, Tweedy’s vocals hardly ever make it beyond the level of a hushed late-night conversation. There’s a little bit of fuzz-style guitar work on ‘Someone To Lose’, but nothing like the amount on Star Wars where it was the dominant sound. Generally, Schmilco is a very quiet album. And a slim one too, running in at barely 37 minutes. Does it work? Well, sometimes it feels like Tweedy has handed over his home demos to Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche with a note to go away and fill in the gaps. Maybe the songs were all conceived and recorded as a collective unit, but on occasions it can seem like the work of a set of individual musicians. There are also times when it would be great to hear some of the songs played in full on Sky Blue Sky mode. ‘If I Ever Was a Child’, ‘Cry All Day’, and ‘We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl)’ would already be classic Wilco songs by now in that event. Here, by contrast, they’re downplayed a little. In the end, Jeff Tweedy is right that some people will respond to anything by Wilco with a big ‘meh’. And it’s good that even so he still wants to shake things up a little. On Schmilco the result is much more than ‘bah’, somewhat less than a ‘wow’, and more along the lines a contented ‘hmm, not bad at all’.
Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994 – 2014
‘Tis the season to be retrospective. And one of this year’s highlights is Wilco’s 20th anniversary collection of 77 rare tracks. The clue is in the title. Everything has been released before. B-sides, website downloads, one-off contributions to tribute albums, radio sessions, exclusive tour edition tracks, iTunes pre-order bonus songs, and so on. The Wilco completist will have them all already. Which, of course, won’t stop them from buying this collection too. But for mere mortals, this four-disc set makes for a more than welcome, career-spanning overview of one of the great bands of our time. Things start very gently. Disc 1 finds the guitars barely played in anger. If this is your preferred form of Wilco, then you’ll be alt-country, indie-melodic heaven. The contrast with Disc 2 couldn’t be more profound. Much raspier generally, it begins with a live, thrashy, punk-inspired version of ‘Passenger Side’. It’s unlistenable compared with the lovely, almost pastoral demo version that’s included on the first disc, but it captures Wilco in another mood. Pretty much to form, Disc 3 is the experimental one. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is surprisingly under-represented, but there are a couple of great rarities from that era, including ‘Cars Can’t Escape’. Instead, the emphasis is on A Ghost Is Born with the sheer fecundity of the songwriting and the growing confidence of the band coming across strongly. Disc 4 is more eclectic. And if you’re a fan of the band’s last five years, then there’s only a handful of tracks for you to enjoy. What’s remarkable across the collection as a whole is how the development of the band is revealed. What could have been a rag-bag of somewhat random tracks turns out to be a remarkably accurate document of the group’s musical trajectory. It means that if you’re already a Wilco fan, the story will make sense. If you’re not, then while it mightn’t be the very best place to start (there’s an accompanying 38-track, two-disc selection of easy-to-find tracks to go to instead), it won’t give you a misleading impression of what the band has done either. Whatever your starting point, maybe try ‘The Lonely 1 (White Hen Version)’ and just see where it takes you.
The Line Of Best Fit review
Pop Matters review
All Music review
LA Times review