“Box Full of Letters” (Wilco Cover)

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to yet another all-new Laptop Session at your web blog for a session-a-day, guaranteed through December 31st, 2008. Now, that guarantee is swiftly running out, but don’t fret. We’ll be introducing a new schedule of performances for 2009 that will not only introduce many new types of posts to the blog on a regular basis, but also maintain a steady and prolific stream of new cover song music videos!

But, let’s focus on the present for now…

I had originally intended to record a Christmas song tonight, but I got busy with napping, fast food eating, Christmas shopping, and TNA Impact! viewing, so I decided to pull out my one and only “backup video.” If I haven’t already, I should introduce this video by announcing my desire to record a cover video for at least one song from each Wilco album. I’ve been listening to this band a lot these past several months, picking up their albums one by one as I find them on sale or used. I’ve already recorded a song from their third studio album, Summerteeth, called “How to Fight Loneliness” — that video is posted in the members only area of this blog (scroll down to the bottom to sign in and/or sign up!). Previous to that, I recorded “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” from their critically acclaimed fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This was a great song — easy to learn, fun to memorize the lyrics for the performance, and I even got a compliment from a former student who watched the video!

Last week, I picked up a copy of their subsequent album, A Ghost is Born. Ironically, I’m listening to that album now and — literally the moment I typed the title of the album (!) — I just heard Tweedy singing “a ghost is born…,” which is in the lyrics to the song “Theologians.” I don’t think that A Ghost is Born is as impressive an album as Foxtrot or as rocking and enjoyable an album as Summerteeth, but I’m warming to it. There’s a great deal of experimentation, particularly on the 15-minute penultimate track “Less Than You Think.”

But I’m not quite ready to record a song from that album yet, so I went back to the first Wilco album, A.M., which is the final album that I own thus far. This album was more of a straightforward country rock effort, reminiscent of their predecessor Uncle Tupelo. Tweedy himself doesn’t sound all that impressed with the album, but I think it’s actually the most upbeat of the Wilco albums I own. It’s certainly the best album to listen to in the car!

This is my version of the single from the album, titled “Box Full of Letters.” I don’t know what it is about this song — something about the combination of the guitar hooks, lower lead vocal that resonates, and the catchy chorus — but I love it.

And it puts me one step closer to having recorded one song from each album!

When I return next week, I’ll have three sessions for the week — barring unforeseen difficulties, I’ll be bringing you three holiday-themed songs to finish out the season for me (musically, at least).

Thanks for reading and watching, and don’t forget to hurry back tomorrow and the next day for great videos from Jeff and Jim. They’ll be “slapping yourself in the face to make sure you’re not dreaming” good!

See you next session!

Foo Fighters’ “Foo Fighters” (1995) – Yes, No, or Maybe So

Foo Fighters’ Foo Fighters (1995) – MAYBE

The Foo Fighters' self-titled debut (1995)

The Foo Fighters' self-titled debut (1995)

(July 4, 1995)


A bit raw and predictable around the edges, but an upbeat debut album with clear rock sensibilities and strong potential for the future (The Colour & the Shape, anyone?) from almost-Heartbreaker Dave Grohl…

Top Two Tracks:  

“This is a Call” & “I’ll Stick Around”

Son Volt’s “Trace” (1995) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore

RATING:  2 / 5  stars

Although Wilco has since gained more critical acclaim, let us not forget that Son Volt was, at least initially, the more successful of the post-Uncle Tupelo groups.  When I fell hard for Wilco a year and a half ago, I went hungrily about, devouring any relevant music I could find:  Jeff Tweedy’s solo work, Golden Smog, the Minus Five, Wilco demos, and back to the source of it all, Uncle Tupelo.  I had an interest in Trace, but I never could find it in physical form on the shelves anywhere.

It took a devoted member of the Jay Farrar message board community to come across my Deep Racks Report on Wilco’s A.M. (1995) and point out my not-so-subtle dismissal of Son Volt for me to realize I had better get serious and find this album.

A year and several spins of their mediocre 2009 record American Central Dust later, I finally stumbled across their debut release in downtown New Haven, CT.

It’s a striking record, a heartfelt, gritty grind through eleven serious songs, Farrar’s characteristic vocal chords creaking at every turn.  The first word that comes to mind is authenticity.  I can see more clearly than ever that Farrar certainly brought that component to Tupelo.  Still, I could have guessed that from A.M.; I love its lyrical bluntness and boneheaded beauty, but Tweedy seemed to be simply passing through town on the way to more experimental music.

Certainly, Uncle Tupelo pioneered the alternative country genre, Tweedy’s interests clearly moving progressively farther to the alternative and, as Trace confirms, Farrar’s predilections being for more pure country – often distortion-soaked, but country all the same.

At best, Trace is a collection of compelling words and instrumentation that gel around what has become a distinctive Son Volt sound.  Still, with the exception of “Drown,” I can’t shake the impression that listening to a Son Volt song is like examining a heartbeat: within the first several seconds, you can predict exactly what is to come for the duration.

Son Volt's "Trace" (1995)

Son Volt's "Trace" (1995)

“Windfall” is a fairly straightforward number, the harmonies and acoustic work kicking off the album on a calm but serious note.  It was most certainly unintentional, but I find the reference here to AM radio representing a “truer sound” quite interesting, considering the title of Wilco’s debut release six months earlier.

The band takes it up a notch on “Live Free,” introducing electric guitar to the mix.  Even here, though, there is nothing groundbreaking.  It is catchy, to be sure, and there is some strumming that verges on being a riff.

Track three retracts that aforementioned notch, but “Tear Stained Eye” is perhaps the most beautiful song on the album.

“Route” has more raw energy than anything that came before, and the band begins to show a bit of disregard for note-for-note perfection — a welcome change.  Still, there is nothing outstanding about “Route” when taken out of context.

If depression is your game, then “Ten Second News” is your song.  As much as I want to skip it, I do acknowledge that, the reference to cancer notwithstanding, it sounds like it could have come directly out of a traditional ballad written who knows how long ago in the who knows where.

Then comes the flagship of this album.  “Drown” has everything that a great rock song should: raw energy, a catchy riff, cool electric soloing, great vocals with hints of harmonies in all the right places.  If there were more songs like this, Trace would have received an altogether different rating from me.

Even after multiple listens, the songs on the remainder of the album begin to blend together for me.  “Loose String” and “Too Early” aren’t bad songs…  They’re just not memorable ones. “Out of the Picture” and “Catching On” have more substance to them, but I can’t avoid noticing the echoes of A.M. in them.  (Why reviewers extolled Trace‘s virtues while so blatantly disregarding the merits of Wilco’s debut, I may never understand.)

Son Volt could not have chosen a more poignant number than their cover of Ron Woods’ “Mystifies Me,” and their version verges on the quintessential.

All in all, I don’t dislike Trace, but I am nonplussed by the attention it has received.  At best, it is a middle of the road release with a handful of fantastic songs.  At worst, it is yet another reason Wilco fans have to be excited about the Uncle Tupelo split.