Release Date: Nov 30, 2018
Record label: dBpm
History is often perceived and represented as past tense. Moments and movements that happened, taught in a way in which we can't change these things, but dissect them, eventually learning how to move forward with what we've extracted from their happenings. But how do we handle history when it's written right before our eyes, developing as we start our days every morning, altering and adapting as our own self-awareness grows along with these events? This is in the conundrum for which Jeff Tweedy, frontman of Wilco and veteran Americana prophet, creates.
Near the beginning of WARM, Jeff Tweedy sings, "What I've been through should matter to you." Coming from the tenderest reaches of his soft, broken tenor, the line is raised more like a question than a command. But he has a point. While Tweedy's songbook in Wilco and Uncle Tupelo has obliquely touched on his personal life, his music often feels more like an outstretched arm, a box of tissues slid across the table, a series of words spoken with the implicit follow-up question, "And how does that make you feel?" Scan Wilco's audience during the opening notes of any song, and you'll see the response: tears, hugs, the saddest fist-pumps in rock music.
Hope and compassion are not emotions people often associate with rock & roll -- joy, rebellion, fury, lust, and exhilaration are usually parts of the formula, but few people think of rock & roll as the equivalent of a warm hug from a good friend in a time of need. Jeff Tweedy wants to change that, or at least that seems to be the recurring theme of 2018's Warm, the Wilco founder's first solo album of original material. Tweedy has never been afraid to dwell on his introspective side, as far back as his days in Uncle Tupelo, and it takes center stage on Warm, which features 11 songs about the search for respite in a world where little seems to go right.
Wilco never seemed like they were meant to be a big band. Conflict, turmoil and adversity aside, Jeff Tweedy's songwriting was just too unassuming for the pretensions of fame. Album after album built around his hushed melodies and simple chord progressions; the honesty and dedication to drawing emotion out of every moment nonetheless brought genuine cult status, subsequent fame and ultimately Grammy recognition.
So far, Tweedy 's songwriting has tended to veer far, far away from the kind of soul-baring transparency that motivates many of the classic songwriters who form an integral part of the Wilco chief's musical DNA. Rather than going for the full confessional, Tweedy's chosen to emote in an idiosyncratic manner that's simultaneously almost impenetrably oblique and (at its best) impossibly moving: Tweedy provides the imagery, the listener decides on an exact meaning that's best in tune with their own experiences and circumstances. This makes the directness (relatively speaking: we're hardly speaking of a sneak peek at diary entries here) of WARM such a refreshing change of direction.
The Wilco frontman's solo record uses left-fied lustre to keep trad triteness at bay, with moments that upend Americana as beautifully as 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' did with US indie rock When most frontmen go acoustic, it's either a cheap shot at a solo career, a misguided attempt to indulge an inner Nick Drake that doesn't exist or a kiss-off to the bassist who shagged his girlfriend. For Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, though, it's a lure of nature. His literate alt-rock songs have always shot folk-like threads of connection and empathy through the hearts of his worshipful fanbase, and Americana country music has long been his bedrock.
The Lowdown: Where exactly does Wilco end and Jeff Tweedy begin? It’s always been tough to decipher. Together at Last, released in 2017, was a solo record insofar as it was Tweedy performing Wilco songs all by his lonesome. And while the singer broke off to record Sukierae with his namesake group in 2014, the end result was still as close as one could get to a Wilco record without it actually being one.
Sometimes, we begin by looking back. 'Warm', Tweedy's follow-up to 2017 acoustic retrospective, 'Together at Last', finds him in reflective mood. From the offset, we're on the memory train - "what will I leave behind?" he asks, reflecting on his legacy. It's the sound of a musician settling into his autumn and flicking through the scrapbook of memory - with the compromise and conclusions that so often presents.
T his is the 18th album Jeff Tweedy has made as a principal player - with Uncle Tupelo, with Wilco, with his elder son (as Tweedy) and solo. It is a testament to his restless creativity that he's still making worthwhile music, still twisting familiar elements into appealing shapes. The perfectionism and obsession of the middle Wilco years are a thing of the past.
With Wilco on a year-long hiatus, Jeff Tweedy burrowed into a memoir, "Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)," and settled into his Chicago studio to knock out a few songs. With minimal accompaniment by his sons, Spencer and Sammy Tweedy, and a turn by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Tweedy sings in a voice that often sounds like it's participating in a one-on-one conversation with the listener. He makes the 11 songs on "Warm" (dBpm Records) sound effortless, sprinkled with Byrds-gone-country twang and touches of ambient dreaminess and acid-tinged atmospherics.