By Chris Moore:
We’ve all heard the term “deep track,” used to refer to songs that do not receive much (or any) commercial radio airplay. This series is dedicated to going deep into the CD racks to bring you brief but focused reports on ALBUMS that have not received as much commercial or critical attention as they should.
RELATED LAPTOP SESSIONS: Chris – “Box Full of Letters”
A.M. by Wilco
This is an album that seems to get universally hated on. It is Wilco’s first album, released in 1995 following the breakup of the alt.country band Uncle Tupelo. All of Tupelo’s members except Jay Farrar became Wilco and proceeded to record an album of songs that sound very similar to Tupelo’s work with one significant difference — they sound somewhat more together, less raw than your average Uncle Tupelo tracks.
Reception? Well, fans and critics alike appear to have agreed that Jay Farrar’s new band, Son Volt, released a superior debut album. To be fair, I have only heard selected tracks from the Son Volt release and I do understand the inevitability of comparisons between Son Volt and Wilco. Still, I haven’t been overly impressed with what I’ve heard from Son Volt. (Please, send your letters and complaints care of Chris at Laptop Sessions!) Yes, A.M. is a pretty simple rock record. No, songs like “I Must Be High” and “Passenger Side” aren’t going to win any lyrical accolades with lines like “You’re pissed that you missed the very last kiss” and “You’re gonna make me spill my beer if you don’t learn how to steer,” respectively. Even Jeff Tweedy expressed disatisfaction with the straightforwardness of the record, and he was among the first to suggest that this was Wilco “treading some water with a perceived audience.”
Okay, but it’s a fun record! Anyone who is familiar with Wilco’s catalog now knows that, from the second album on, the band became progressively more experimental and interested in making great records. A.M. is breath of fresh rock’n roll air! Not until 2007’s Sky Blue Sky would their sound be as compositionally straightforward again, and as much as I love all the albums in between, isn’t the cliche “variety is the spice of life”? I never skip these tracks when they come up on random and I continue to be drawn in by tracks like the catchy “Box Full of Letters,” the heart-breaking “Should’ve Been in Love,” and the haunting “Dash 7.” (I’m excited that I finally figured out that “Dash 7” refers to, as Wikipedia states, “The de Havilland Canada DHC-7 [airplane], popularly known as the Dash 7.”)
So, contrary to the press it received, I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of A.M. today. It’s not their best album, but who cares? And please, for crying out loud, ignore the genre nonsense altogether — alt.country, country rock, rock’n roll, alternative rock??? — and just enjoy the music!
Regarding The Deep Racks Report: “A.M.”:
Easily Wilco’s worst record, and yes, Son Volt’s Trace was far superior. Also, sounding more “together” and “less raw” isn’t inherently a good thing, as you seem to have assumed. As a fan of both bands, I can tell that you operate from a heavy Wilco bias. At least admit to that. Also, saying you’ve only heard a little of Son Volt and weren’t impressed doesn’t exactly lend credibility to your position. As much of a Wilco fan as you appear to be, you do yourself a disservice by not knowing anything of Son Volt’s or Jay Farrar’s work, who basically made Tweedy what he is today.
Personally, I’ll take Uncle Tupelo over either incarnation of the post-Tupelo bands, as well as Farrar’s song writing over Tweedy’s, but that’s just me. And, last but not least, Son Volt actually contained more Uncle Tupelo members in the band than Wilco did. Coomer, Johnson and Stirrat were just add-ons for the last album and tour. This means Son Volt’s Farrar and Heidorn outnumber Wilco’s Tweedy. Heck, the lead guitarist on A.M. wasn’t even a band member.
I have recently come to appreciate more and more the beauty of less “together” and more “raw” recordings, so you make a very good point. In an interesting way, I like “A.M.” all the more for being more ramshackle and rocking than really anything Wilco recorded subsequently.
Admittedly, I do have a heavy Wilco bias — I intended to write a send-up of “A.M.” much more than to put down Son Volt on any level, but I’m actually really excited to have stirred up this response. It’s not all that often that we get commenting newcomers to the blog — and musically opinionated ones at that!
So, it’s time I edu-macate myself outside of Wilco. Which Son Volt record(s) do I need to hear to make a more informed decision? (I suppose the answer here might be “all,” but to start with…?)
Thanks again for reading and commenting!!
P.S. That’s interesting about the members; I operate from an “essential tracks” knowledge of Uncle Tupelo and mainly an internet history of the band.
You could do worse than to pick up Trace, Straightaways and Wide Swing Tremelo. The first three Son Volt albums more than compare to Wilco’s initial forays and in some cases surpasses them. Wilco may have stolen a march on Son Volt over recent years, saleswise, but please treat yourself to some of the finest American roots music ever recorded and get those albums.
I happen to love A.M. myself, it gets a fair pasting at the hands of latter day Wilco fans which is unfair. Oh and the lead guitarist on A.M. is one onery bugger..:)
This blog post and the responses are prompting me to cue up A.M for some post-Oscar wind-down. A.M. is one of my true desert island discs, and it opened up a whole new world for me back in the day. THIS was the album that started me down a glorious path. After A.M. I picked up Trace, which basically changed my life. Wanting to know more about the history of the artists that produced these two great albums led me to Uncle Tupelo.
You’ve made a great start here with A.M. Let it lead you where it will, and you will have done yourself a great favor. Yes, I agree that the three SV albums that Jim mentions are essential listening.
Oh, and HI, Jim and Glenn. Imagine seeing you guys here…. 😉