Friday, July 3, 2009

Wilco (the album)

Just the other day I was reminiscing with another Wilco fan about the late Jay Bennett. We were recalling the early Wilco shows at the Bluebird, Fox, Boulder Theatre etc., and how much fun it was to see the band at that formative, shambling, somewhat drunken stage in their career. The shows were really unpredictable and really fun. After seeing the movie “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” the mutually destructive nature of the Tweedy/Bennett relationship becomes painfully clear. We now know both men suffered from a variety of personality/substance/psychological issues that prevented a healthy working relationship. Tweedy has stuck with Wilco, and stuck with his current line-up for a number of years now, and in spite of those great early days he has forged a band that actually gets better and better with each album. Just as I was with Sky Blue Sky I am blown away by the world-striding leaps as a songwriter that Tweedy continues to make. In Nels Cline he has found the perfect foil. One suspects that Cline does not try to own the final product creatively the way Jay Bennett did. He is the guitar player. But what a guitar player! He has struck a balance between his naturally avant leanings and a more melodic and controlled approach to his solos.

In a number of ways, Wilco (the album) is Beatle-esque. For instance on “You Never Know” the guitar part is lifted directly from “My Sweet Lord” –era Harrison, and there are many flourishes that scream fabs. Overall though, the album is not at all retro, it is a thoroughly modern-sounding collection of great songs. “You and I” is a lovely duet with Leslie Feist and a likely single. There are upbeat rockers with skronky, backward guitar solos, and tender acoustic ballads with introspective, heartbreaking lyrics. It is a deep well of an album, and the more I listen to it, the more excited I am about the live possibilities of these songs. Because, the live Wilco is another thing all together. They have not been adequately captured on album live yet, but their concerts are a wonder to behold.

Both the great albums and the increasingly exciting live experience point to Wilco being one of the great, original American bands on the scene today. I keep waiting for them to make a slip, but Tweedy has consistently upped the ante with every release and every show. Can’t wait to see them at Red Rocks Tonight.

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