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.

“Walt Whitman’s Niece” (Billy Bragg & Wilco Cover)

Originally posted 2008-09-16 11:35:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

As promised, I’m back after my second Jack Johnson acoustic cover song (posted on Saturday) to bring you my first installment for “New Bands Week.”  Since I wanted to make sure that I’m pulling my weight around here (and considering that Jim is swiftly adding to a list of at least ten new artists he plans to cover!), I decided to bring not only one but two new bands in one day to the best cover song music blog in the universe!

Okay, so maybe I’m talking up my contribution here, since the song I chose — “Walt Whitman’s Niece” — was recorded as a collaboration between the two artists, songwriter Billy Bragg and alternative rock band Wilco.  But, still… in the spirit of “New Bands Week,” two new bands!

There’s a really interesting story to go along with this cover song.  This is the first track on Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue album, a collection of songs based on the lyrics of Woody Guthrie.  Guthrie essentially ended up writing countless songs over his years as a songwriter, many of which he never put to music.  He literally had boxes of them.  I read that Guthrie actually offered them to a young Bob Dylan when Dylan went to visit him in the hospital.  He even made the long trip out to Guthrie’s house, but there was only a babysitter at home and she did not want to let a stranger in.  (Little did she know he would soon be anything BUT a stranger!)  Then, decades later, Billy Bragg and Wilco got their hands on the lyrics, chose their favorites, and wrote music for the words.  The result is an amazing album that I first learned about through my Journalism II teacher, who was also a big Dylan fan.

They came out with a sequel a few years later, simply called Mermaid Avenue Volume II, but it really wasn’t as strong as the first time around.  This is simply one of those moments in rock music, in my opinion, that came down to initial inspiration.  That first album is such a strong, enjoyable, and interesting collection of music.  In fact, I initially wanted to record “Ingrid Bergman” (which I did and stored away for later), but then remembered about “Walt Whitman’s Niece.”  I figured it would be a much stronger choice, as it is the first track on the album, upbeat, and of course, highlighted by a crazy harmonica solo that I could never duplicate.  All in all, a really fun song to sing.  As Jim and I figured out, it was a lot of fun to improv lyrics to the tune!

As a final note, Jim and I saw the latest Woody Allen movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, tonight.  Although I’m always a big fan of seeing him in the movies, this was a really interesting film even if he didn’t play an acting role.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about the voiceovers initially, but I really got into the characters and especially the situation.  I think this is one of those movies that will cause viewers to think about their own ideas about love, trust, and what their lives will be like in several decades.  How do you find happiness?  I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop here.

This may be all for today’s post, but don’t forget to rush back tomorrow for another all-new band and another all-new cover song by Jeff Copperthite.  If you haven’t already, you should scroll down the home page and check out Jim and Jeff’s first picks of the New Bands Week.

See you next sesion!

Wilco Summer 2009 SET LIST – Wappingers Falls, NY: Saturday, 7/18/2009

Originally posted 2009-07-18 18:34:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The SET LIST is below…

For a detailed review, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

Well, it’s only been three days and here we are again, seated in a ballpark waiting for an event to begin. And it won’t be a baseball game…

Wednesday was a phenomenal Bob Dylan concert in New Britain, CT and today, Saturday, is the Wappinger’s Falls, NY stop on the Wilco summer 2009 tour.

As I type, there are a few last minute adjustments being made to the equipment onstage before the opener at 7pm – Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band. I have no idea what they’ll be like, so more to come about their performance soon…

I’ll be posting up-to-the-minute details of the Wilco set list as the songs are played, so check back soon for that. (I’ll do my best to report accurately, but they have quite the variety of covers that have slipped into their set lists in the past. Either way, it’ll be interesting!)

Conor Oberst and company just finished their set. Overall, they were an energetic and entertaining band, but I’m anxiously awaiting my first Wilco concert…

Jeff Tweedy and the boys of Wilco will be onstage any minute now, so stay tuned for the set list updates.

WILCO SET LIST:

1 ) “Wilco (the song)”
2 ) “I’m Always in Love”
3 ) “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
4 ) “Shot in the Arm”
5 ) “Bull Black Nova”
6 ) “You Are My Face”
7 ) “One Wing”
8 ) “Side with the Seeds”
9 ) “War on War”
10 ) “Deeper Down”
11 ) “Impossible Germany”
12 ) “Far, Far Away”
13 ) “Too Far Apart”
14 ) “Handshake Drugs”
15 ) “Can’t Stand It”
16 ) “Jesus, etc.”
17 ) “Sonny Feeling”
18 ) “Theologians”
19 ) “Hate it Here”
20 ) “Walken”
21 ) “I’m the Man Who Loves You”
22 ) “Hummingbird”

ENCORE 1:

23 ) “Poor Places”
24 ) “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”

ENCORE 2:

25 ) “The Late Greats”
26 ) “You Never Know”
27 ) “Heavy Metal Drummer”
28 ) “Hoodoo Voodoo”
29 ) “I’m a Wheel”

The Best of the Bob Dylan Covers – Playlists on Parade

Originally posted 2010-11-20 12:40:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

With some sources placing Bob Dylan as the #2 most covered artist (behind the Beatles, of course), there are some excellent performances of his songs.

Predominantly, though, there are hundreds and hundreds of inferior versions of his work, ranging from mediocre all the way down to openly offensive.

As a Dylan fan now for over a decade, I have accumulated quite a number of covers.  Folk?  I have it.  Bluesgrass?  Regrettably, yes.  Gospel?  You betcha!  Reggae?  For reals.

Suffice it to say, there’s some utter crap.

I’ve been thinking for weeks now about putting together a playlist of my favorite Dylan covers.  Finally, after coming across a Jimi Hendrix recording of “Tears of Rage” on iTunes today, I sorted through the archives and pieced together eighteen of my favorite recordings.  For those who don’t know me, you should understand that I’m often the guy who will remind you that, “This song was actually written by…” or ask you, “Have you ever heard the original?”  So, for me to say I love these songs means that they’ve truly made the cut for me.

And I hope you’ll enjoy them as well!

The artists are as wide ranging as George Harrison and Beck.  They go back as far as the sixties, with a sampling of classics by the original masters of the Dylan cover the Byrds, and are as recent as the Dead Weather, that super-ish-group co-fronted by Jack White.  In the case of the former, I love the Dylan versions about as much as Roger McGuinn and company’s, but in the case of the latter, a forgettable Street Legal track was revived and successfully reimagined.

There are some that you absolutely must listen to the originals – “Simple Twist of Fate” for one, and “Born in Time” for another (that is, if you find the Bootleg Series version).  There are some that are, frankly, better as covers – I’m thinking of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” here.

So, go explore.  Visit Amazon and iTunes.  Expand your Dylan horizons.  And, most of all, remember why Bob Dylan was, is, and forever shall be the freakin’ man.

1)  “Mr. Tambourine Man” – The Byrds

2)  “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” – Beck

3)  “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix

4)  “If Not for You” – George Harrison

5)  “Mama You’ve Been on My Mind / A Fraction of Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” – Jack Johnson

6)  “Masters of War” – Pearl Jam

7)  “New Pony” – The Dead Weather

8)  “Simple Twist of Fate” – Jeff Tweedy

9)  “My Back Pages” – The Byrds

10)  “Absolutely Sweet Marie” – George Harrison

11)  “Tears of Rage” – Jimi Hendrix

12)  “I Shall Be Released” – The Band

13)  “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Eric Clapton

14)  “Mississippi” – Sheryl Crow

15)  “John Wesley Harding” – Wilco

16)  “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – The Byrds

17)  “Born in Time” – Eric Clapton

18)  “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Warren Zevon