Release Date: Jun 23, 2017
Record label: Anti-
Even when Jeff Tweedy's Wilco were at their most face-melting as a live proposition (see 2003's Kicking Television), it was always a habit of his to book solo acoustic tours every so often, as if to reconnect with the songs, or showcase another side of them - lyrics that veer between gnomic, surreal wordplay and a wry kind of depair, and his casually expressive voice; all lived-in, choked-up soul but capable of a sandpaper-like higher register. These shows, of which plenty circulate among fans, also enabled Tweedy to show off a vast songbook, one teeming with marvels that didn't necessarily land on Wilco or Uncle Tupelo albums. Together At Last takes a similar approach; a thoughtfully compiled career-spanning collection, performed solo on acoustic guitar.
The review for Jeff Tweedy's new album Together At Last practically writes itself. You've no doubt read a variation of it at the end of comparable releases from similarly accomplished artists before: "For hardcore Tweedy disciples, Together At Last is another interesting and insightful chapter in the man's career. More casual fans, however, should pass in favor of one of the many worthwhile entry points into his incredible catalog." That's probably true, technically speaking, though it undersells this collection of Tweedy songs from across the past quarter-century, sparsely arranged and intimately re-recorded.
"I shake like a toothache when I hear myself sing," Jeff Tweedy confesses on "Ashes of American Flags". Those sound like the words of a man who wouldn't entertain the idea of releasing a solo acoustic record. Maybe when the song was first released 15 years ago, they were true. Nonetheless, here the track is, smack in the center of a record capturing the Wilco frontman all by his lonesome.
Generally, when the leader of a group of note makes a solo album, the purpose is to provide a platform to do something that couldn't be done within the creative boundaries of the band. That notion applies to Jeff Tweedy's first proper solo album, 2017's Together at Last, though in a rather unexpected way. For Together at Last, Tweedy literally opts not to have a band with him for a change -- this is a set of 11 tunes from his back catalog, recorded solo, with Tweedy's voice, acoustic guitar, and harmonica only occasionally reinforced with some very subtle guitar overdubs.
Now this is a lovely thing. Jeff Tweedy revisits his past catalogue, recording acoustic renditions of songs from Wilco, Loose Fur, and Golden Smog. The record begins with a slightly faster paced "Via Chicago" from Wilco's Summerteeth, the tempo suiting the song very well. Summerteeth is the album best represented here with two further takes on songs from that record.
The adage that says a great song can be reduced to just acoustic guitar and vocal and still enthrall listeners is put to an interesting test by Jeff Tweedy on his new solo record. Together At Last finds Tweedy stripping down Wilco songs and tracks from side projects to their bare essentials. Unplugged albums are nothing new, but Tweedy's reimagining of this material is particularly notable because of how Wilco is known for complicating arrangements to bend and twist their songs into fantastical territory.
For Wilco's entire history, the band's leader, Jeff Tweedy, has existed as a solo artist. Though the songwriter's solo recorded output has been limited to the likes of bootlegs and the original score for the 2001 Ethan Hawke film Chelsea Walls, Tweedy alone thrives in a live setting. These shows are the only place where Wilco favorites and deep cuts sit comfortably beside songs from his other projects: alt-country cornerstone Uncle Tupelo, a strum-and-hiss trio with Jim O'Rourke and Glenn Kotche called Loose Fur, the rotating roots-rock collective Golden Smog, or, most recently, his father/son project Tweedy.
Jeff Tweedy's Together at Last rounds up songs by three of the prolific singer-songwriter's bands—Wilco, Golden Smog, and Loose Furs—and presents them in solo acoustic form. An album of remakes can't help but feel modest in scope, and Together at Last revels in its modesty. Though it opens with a slow and mournful reading of “Via Chicago,” the mood throughout is off-the-cuff and playful.
J eff Tweedy's band Wilco have become synonymous with experimentalism and sonic adventures. However, this first instalment in a planned series of acoustic sessions continues the more stripped-down trajectory which began with 2014 solo debut, Sukierae. This time, Tweedy revisits his own labyrinthine back catalogue for 11 songs spanning occasional projects Loose Fur and Golden Smog as well as Wilco.
Every few years, Jeff Tweedy sets off on a solo acoustic tour to strip down some cuts from his work in Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Golden Smog and Loose Fur. And with a discography as storied and varied as his -- having pioneered the alt-country movement with his first-ever studio album (Uncle Tupelo's No Depression) before moving on to experimental rock and folk -- it's interesting to hear such a breadth of music pared to its bare essentials, exposing Tweedy's raw, heartfelt songwriting and composition. It's a technique he immortalized in 2006 concert film Sunken Treasure: Live in the Pacific Northwest, and one he tries again on Together at Last, billed as his first-ever solo album.
When I interviewed Jeff Tweedy about Sukierae, the 2014 album he recorded with his son under the name Tweedy, I couldn't resist asking how he wrote some lines from one of his Wilco songs. They were from 'Via Chicago', on Summerteeth: "But the wind blew me back via Chicago/ In the middle of the night/ And all without fight/ At the crush of veils and starlight. " Whether it was the way "veils and starlight" seemed curiously redolent of Romantic poetry, or the sense that if veils and starlight were to be united, a "crush" would be the most apt noun, the lines had hung in my ears since I first heard them.