Monday, May 11, 2009



Have you noticed how dispensable most new music is? Not entirely memorable or really even worth more than one spin? Dreadful?

Take heart gentle reader, there are still writers and performers who manage to escape the bounds of mediocrity and produce work of lasting merit. One sparkling example is Jeff Tweedy and the ever changing group of musicians that comprise Wilco.

"Sky Blue Sky" is a subtle, extremely spotless sounding effort, released around this time in 2007. I bought it straight away, having followed the band since their second album. It took some time to digest, though it quickly went into a regular listening rotation. No wild shifts or overt experimentation involved, with understated music to match the lyrical subject matter. If you like layered guitar work, you're going to find it here. Tweedy pulls off one of the best compositions he's ever contributed with "Impossible Germany". Three different lead parts share space right through to the delicate ending. This clip has a bonus ending, featuring a quick explanation of what prompted the song's lyrics.

Nodding to back to the first album, the title track has an ersatz country feel, complete with heavy foot on the high hat pedal, eat shit bass, sighing background guitar figures and a lyric that suggests the author passed through a fairly dark period. What it all means is purely subjective. Tweedy's vocal has an element of what Neil Young left uncorrected in "Mellow My Mind" from Tonight's the Night. Only in places, though. It's a really effective way of conveying the emotional weight of the words.

There are a couple ofl Wilcoesque diversions into madness within songs ("Side With the Seeds", "Walken") and the playing is first rate throughout. Understated and quietly beautiful, songs like "Please Be Patient With Me" and "On and On and On", which closes the album, mine territory that is borderline confessional and poetic all at once. Nothing comes across as overly heavy. Guitars are up front (always a plus) and you can detect the Byrds of "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" period in the mix. I have been listening to this a lot lately, ramping up for their next release (Wilco -The Album), due out next month. Have a listen, it's streaming here

Tweedy is an exceptional song writer and his vision has often morphed into assumption of full control. Sounds like he's allowed some space for collaboration on this record, at least from a musical standpoint. The results couldn't be better. If you want to listen to something that will stand up twenty years from now, this is it.

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