Music Review: Wilco’s “Wilco (the album)”

Originally posted 2009-07-06 23:55:58. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore

For an album that is thematically based in the mysteries of human nature and love, the opening track is remarkably straightforward.  “Are you under the impression / This isn’t your life? / Do you dabble in depression?” Jeff Tweedy inquires in “Wilco (the song)” before declaring that “Wilco will love you baby.”

But don’t let the unabashed directness — even Tweedy admits it may appear cheesy at first  — of this opening track deter you from taking the album seriously.

Immediately after “Wilco (the song)” fades out, the heartbeat of “Deeper Down” steadily fades in with the crash of a cymbal.  This song is more subtle and serves as a reminder that the band has not lost its flair for more experimental fare, even after its flirtation with the more straightforward songwriting and jam band mentalities present on 2007’s Sky Blue Sky.  Aside from the standard acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums, this track also incorporates lap steel (which is becoming a standard Wilco instrument, particularly since the arrival of Nels Cline), loops, harpsichord, Mellotron cello and vibraphone, bowed piano (go ahead: look up “bowed piano” — it’s wild…), synthesizer, and cimbalom.  Based on the list of instrumental credits alone, it is apparent Wilco is not through with the sonic experiments that have earned them fame throughout their career, ever since the opening moments of “Misunderstood” on 1996’s Being There.

“Deeper Down” also begins to tackle the core subjects covered by the album, namely the uncertainties in both our relationships and personal lives.  As Tweedy sings, “Out beyond the telescope’s pry / Up above the tallest Dutch dope high / He realized / This mystery is his.”  The unknown elements that the singer is concerned with here are not the ones that can be analyzed by using scientific equipment or engaging in a study.  Rather, personal demons and mysteries are on display for examination throughout the song and the album.

As the next verse begins to employ the metaphor of the ocean floor for the depths of the human mind, a creaking sound invokes the image of a deep sea vehicle moving farther and farther down into the watery depths.

This is the one track on the album that is not written solely by Tweedy.  A collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, “Deeper Down” is the perfect bookend to the album proper.

“One Wing” returns to the lighthearted lyricism of the opening song, the title metaphor of this third track comparing a full relationship to a bird (“We once belonged to a bird”) and the aftermath of a breakup to the separation of those all-important feathery appendages (“One wing will never ever fly, dear / Neither yours nor mine, I fear / We can only wave goodbye”).  Again, this type of songwriting may seem worthy of a dismissal at first, but it works in context here.

The fourth track is anything but lighthearted.  Told from the manic perspective of one who has just committed murder (online sources suggest the victim was the narrator’s girlfriend), “Bull Black Nova” is the sonic standout here, being easily the most experimental track on the album.  Spin‘s review of the album suggests that this song is out of place in what is largely a body of traditionally arranged songs, but this is not the case.  After all, what will drive a person to killing another — particularly a loved one — is perhaps the greatest human mystery of all.

Driven by a steady beat and arrangement of electric guitars, this track fittingly evokes the mental hysteria of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Indeed, the mystery dealt with in this song is perhaps best described as how one might handle the aftermath of having committed such a heinous crime.

The first of two acoustic masterpieces, “You and I” prominently features the first duet to be included on a Wilco album.  Accompanied by Leslie Feist, Tweedy presents this moving track with a fittingly subdued instrumental performance by the other members of the band.  Moreover, this song advances the motif of the album.  As Tweedy and Feist sing, “Oh, I don’t need to know / Everything about you / Oh, I don’t want to know / And you don’t need to know / That much about me.”  This song considers the reality that two people may still be strangers, regardless of how close they become.  While that may sound negative, it is turned around in the song as a positive and natural element of any relationship.

Tweedy later goes it alone on “Solitaire,” the eighth track.  This is another acoustic gem highlighted by Tweedy’s understated but heartfelt double-tracked vocals.  Lyrically, this is the perfect example of a simple but powerfully written song.  (Click here to see the Laptop Session this song inspired.)

“You Never Know” is the first single; it comes halfway through the album, proving that Wilco was only warming up.  This song nicely features all of the elements that make this an excellent band: Tweedy’s vocals, Cline’s lead guitar, Sansone’s piano,  Jorgensen’s organ, and the typically strong bass and drums of Stirratt and Kotche, respectively.  What stands out about this track is that it is clearly Wilco in sound and style, yet, as several other reviews have noted, the stylistic touches are strongly reminiscent of one of the best songwriter/guitarists of all time: George Harrison.  It is nearly impossible to listen to “You Never Know” and not hear Harrison’s characteristic flourishes in the mix.  In a recent interview, Tweedy suggested that the similarities were not planned, but that he was pleased to offer an homage.

No other journalist has pointed out that the Hammond organ stylings on “You and I” sound like a reference to Bob Dylan’s “I Believe In You,” so I’ll just throw that one out there, too…

The second half of the album is equally as strong as the first.  “I’ll Fight” (a standout track) and “Sonny Feeling” (highlighted by Cline’s lap steel guitar licks) are a powerful combination, occupying the ninth and tenth slots on the album.  The former is a statement of purpose, evoking Biblical references to drive the point home.  The latter evades an entirely concrete interpretation, but it is clear that the song centers around a pivotal experience in a high school student’s life.  The middle is perhaps the strongest section of this song, as Tweedy sings, “You know it’s true / The other shoe / It waits for you / What can you do? / Remember to show gratitude / The darkest night is nothing new.”

In addition to the aforementioned “Solitaire,” the true highlights of the second half are certainly the two acoustic-based songs “Country Disappeared” and “Everlasting Everything.”  “Country Disappeared” is just about as political as you’ll hear Wilco (in song at least), but it is still best described as poetic and personal.  If “Deeper Down” is a fitting thematic bookend at the opening of the album, then “Everlasting Everything” is the ideal closer.  As Tweedy sings, “Oh I know this might sound sad / But everything goes, both the good and the bad / So it all adds up, and you should be glad / Everlasting love is all you had.”  This is apparently what is to be found after digging “deeper down,” namely the realization that a life driven by love is worthwhile.  With this, Wilco (the album) turns out to be perhaps the most positive release in the Wilco catalog.

As “Everlasting Everything” fades out and “Wilco (the song)” thunders in, listeners will find it difficult to pop the CD out of the player or change the selection on the iPod.  And this is just as a great album should be.  Is Wilco (the album) the perfect record, or even a masterpiece?  The answer is undoubtedly in the negative.  And yet there is something compelling, soothing, passionate, and masterful about it.

This is the story of a band putting out a strong seventh release, continuing to impress after an already impressive career.

“Heavy Metal Drummer” by Wilco – Chords, Lyrics, & How to Play

Originally posted 2010-04-10 12:30:20. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

To see how it’s played in the cover song music video, CLICK HERE!

“Heavy Metal Drummer”
Wilco

D                                 D7
I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands
C                                    A
I used to go see on the landing in the summer.
She fell in love with the drummer, she fell in love with the drummer,
She fell in love…

Shiny, shiny pants, bleached blonde hair
A double kick drum by the river in the summer
She fell in love with the drummer, another then another
She fell in love…

G             A                      D                D7
I miss the innocence I’ve known,
G                              A                    D                D7       C       A
Playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned.

Unlock my body and move myself to dance
Into warm liquid, flowing, blowing glass.
Classical music, blasting, masks the ringing
In my ears.

Oh, I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands
I used to go see on the landing in the summer
She fell in love with the drummer, she fell in love with another,
She fell in love…

I miss the innocence I’ve known,
Playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned.

I miss the innocence I’ve known,
Playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned.
Playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned.
Playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned.

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s).  They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **

“The Jolly Banker” (Wilco / Woody Guthrie Acoustic & Lap Steel Cover)

Originally posted 2009-05-25 23:17:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Wilco/Woody Guthrie chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

This is quite the story for a session.  It seems that, in order to outdo my previous “new release” Laptop Sessions, I needed to call in some outside help…

In the form of one Jim Fusco on his brand-new metallic blue lap steel guitar!

Oh, and if you’re a Wilco fan, then I hope you can appreciate how exciting it was for me to host the first Lap-(steel)-top Session.  Throughout their catalog, they have incorporated country tinges with instruments such as this.  Most recently, even as they continue to play around with more experimental forms, Nels Cline plays beautifully on the lap steel in several of their concert set list mainstays, from the older deep track “It’s Just That Simple” to more recent material off of Sky Blue Sky, their 2007 album.

This track, “The Jolly Banker,” was written by Woody Guthrie and originally recorded on March 22, 1940 (as reported in the Library of Congress records for these sessions with folk music expert Alan Lomax).  Nearly seventy years later, Wilco has recorded their own version of this song — which is eerily relevant as of its release on April 30th, 2009 — and released it as a free download online.  Technically, they suggest/request that you donate at least $2 to the Woody Guthrie Foundation — this is quite funny, as one of the three options for downloading states “I am/was a banker/hedge fund manager/credit default swap trader. I know times are tough, but I’m just fine thank you. (Suggested minimum donation $100.00).”

Tonight, I jokingly challenged Jim to not only play this song as his debut performance on his new guitar, but to actually record a Laptop Session on the spot.  He must have taken me seriously or at least had the urge to give the Rogue brand lap steel an official test run, because he didn’t skip a beat when we set up downstairs.  As you’ll hear — and I hope you’ll agree — this is a great, loyal rendition of Wilco’s cover version, right down to the tapping opening count and the aforementioned lap steel.  I was initially thinking that this would be just another session with me recording just another version of a simple song.  Instead, I am proud to say that this is one of my favorite sessions I’ve recorded in a long time.

Unfortunately, although the actual playing of the song with Jim was very fun and relaxed, the events around the recording were frustrating.  As I’m sure Jim will explain in “tomorrow’s” post (don’t forget that I forgot to remember to record on “Memorial” day… there’s some irony for you), he just got his new HD video camera in the mail.  We tried to record the session with the camera — and the video quality was amazing — but the audio quality was terrible.  Jim finally gave up for the night, but I’m sure he’ll come up with some plan to augment and/or jury rig the setup before next week’s Jim Fusco Tuesday.

Maybe then I’ll bug him to record a saxophone solo for a Bruce Springsteen cover…  (Kidding!)  🙂

On a side note, today started off sadly, as I awoke to find the news of former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett’s death on my iPhone AP News app.  While I haven’t followed his work outside of Wilco, I was sad to hear this, especially as I read a quote from Bennett from a couple weeks ago about how excited he was for his new album and the future in general.  It all came in a burst for me, as I also just learned yesterday of the lawsuit Bennett had filed against Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy calling for $50,001.00 in back royalties he felt he was owed, citing the YHF documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart as a film for which he did not sign a proper release form.

Some say Bennett was being unreasonable.  Others say he was instrumental (no pun intended… okay, maybe a little) in Wilco’s mainstream breakthrough and that he deserved additional money.  (Apparently he couldn’t even afford a hip replacement that he badly needed.)

Regardless of which side you take, the bottom line is that he has passed away, and at least for the moment, no one is exactly sure what happened.

I also learned today that our oldies/rock acquaintance, Tony Persia, also passed away recently.  I was saddened to learn about this loss, as he has really set the tone at the annual Carbutti Christmas parties that both Jim and I attend.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he was probably best known as the piano player for the classic Danny & the Juniors single “At the Hop.”  He was an incredibly kind, charming man who met many great music stars in his life and played lots and lots of music — I know I speak for Jim, Mike, and I when I say he will be sorely missed, particularly this December…

On a happy note, I just downloaded the Wilco iPhone app, and it’s great fun.  You can access all the latest band news, photos, and listen in full(!) to every song from their official catalog, including both Mermaid Avenue releases and their live Kicking Television concert album.  If only my other favorite bands would jump on the iPhone application train…  (cough, nudge – “Dylan, Beach Boys, Barenaked Ladies, Moody Blues, Pearl Jam” – cough, nudge)

Without further ado, I will leave you to watch this collaborative session.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed recording it…

See you next session!

“The Jolly Banker” by Wilco (A Woody Guthrie Cover) – Chords, Tabs, & How to Play

Originally posted 2009-05-25 20:03:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the music video of this Wilco/Woody Guthrie cover, CLICK HERE!

“The Jolly Banker”
Wilco (a Woody Guthrie cover)

G                                            C
My name is Tom Cranker, and I’m a jolly banker,
G                                                  D
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
C                                            G
I safeguard the farmers and widows and orphans,
G                                             D               G
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When dust storms are sailing, and crops they are failing,
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I check up your shortage and bring down your mortgage,
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When money you’re needing, and mouths you are feeding,
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I’ll plaster your home with a furniture loan,
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

If you show me you need it, I’ll let you have credit;
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
Just bring me back two for the one I lend you,
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When your car you’re losin’ and sadly your cruisin’,
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I’ll come and foreclose, get your car and your clothes,
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When the bugs get your cotton, the times they are rotten,
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I’ll come down and help you, I’ll rape you and scalp you,
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When the landlords abuse you or sadly misuse you,
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I’ll send down the police to keep you from mischief,
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
Singin’ I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.