ALBUM REVIEW: Tweedy – Sukierae

fe457d61-2Rating7It’s quite surprising that this is Jeff Tweedy’s first solo album given the extent of his career as frontman and principle songwriter with Wilco. Most would have expected him to develop a solo career on the side. He’s always shown an openness to collaborate (Loose Fur, Neil Finn) and he’s played plenty of solo shows yet this is his first foray under his own name (excluding the Sunken Treasure live DVD) and even now he has framed it as a duo project with son Spencer on drums.

The other surprise with Sukierae is its twenty song double-album format at a time when records seem to be trending toward shorter run-times. Reportedly there was a wealth of material to draw from so Tweedy the elder has been able to take a broad sonic brush mixing power pop with gospel, alt-country with art-rock and much more. The two constants are Jeff’s voice which melds melancholy and melody into endlessly attractive shapes and Spencer’s drumming which is in turns virtuosic in complexity and simplicity, both complementing and adding crucial varying dimensions to the music like Levon Helm jamming with James Brown.

‘Wait For Love’ is Sukierae’s first sweet, lilting Beatles-esque highlight complete with whistling and it is quickly matched by ‘Low Key’ – the closest the record gets to Wilco territory –  ‘Flowering Lane’, ‘Summer Noon’ and ‘New Moon’. Across so many tracks there are many moments of greatness buried in the detail. Subtly applied effects and textures like the honeyed swell of gospel voices that grace ‘Nobody Ever Knows’ and Jeff’s exploratory guitar wig-outs that recall Nels Cline, Split Enz and Television.

It is always hard to sustain an album’s high points and invariably there are lulls here. No clunkers by any means, just a handful of songs that drift by innocuously between the sweet spots. Overwhelmingly, Sukierae confirms Jeff Tweedy’s standing as a songwriter and musician with a mesmerising ability to imbue his songs with understated emotion and free-spirited musicality.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder

 

REVIEW: 7 WORLDS COLLIDE – The Sun Came Out

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Reviewed for FasterLouder

7worldsIt is surprising that musicians don’t do this kind of thing more – getting together for the sake of the music, collaborating and sharing the experience of songwriting. One way to do it is the ‘supergroup’ which can either work (Them Crooked Vultures, Temple Of The Dog) or can be a turgid affair (Chickenfoot, Tinted Windows). The model that Neil Finn has developed, where a group of musicians travel to New Zealand with their families and gather to write and record, much like a working holiday.

The Sun Came Out is the second album from the 7 Worlds Collide collective. The first featured Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), members of Radiohead and Johnny Marr (The Smiths). Pretty much a line-up to drool over for indie and rock fans. The new project features many of the same musicians from 2001 plus members of Wilco, Bic Runga, KT Tunstall and Glenn Richards (Augie March). Wilco are often called the ‘American Radiohead’ so to get these chaps together is a fairly monumental musical summit.

As a result of the relaxed beach atmosphere and the extended family vibe of the whole project the songs all flow by breezily, with an americana tinge to many of them. It is effortless pop that drips with melodies and some wonderfully subtle playing.

Jeff Tweedy contributes a couple of tracks, the first being You Never Know from Wilco’s latest album. It is pure Wilco in sound and with the band recording some of their album on the visit it is essentially the same version you hear on that record. His other track What Could Have Been rolls along over a primitive drum machine and is the darker Tweedy, musing on past actions and consequences.

With Neil Finn being the head honcho he appears throughout the album, including the first song written and performed by Finn and wife Sharon. Neil has referred to Little By Little as their amateur version of ESG’s amateur pop funk. The song is a delightful sunny ode to children growing up and finding their own lives and Sharon’s voice suits the song – its not strong but it has a pop melodicism that sits well with Neil’s voice.

Neil’s Learn To Crawl sounds very Radiohead in the verses with Ed O’Brien’s treated guitar soundscaping in the background before the strident chorus surges forward. It is Finn showing another side to his writing beyond the Crowded House and more in tune with his solo work.

KT Tunstall contributes a very country pop styled track complete with ‘whoahs’, handclaps, and honky-tonk piano. It verges on Sheryl Crow at times but the playing and roughness around the edges pulls it back from the edge of MOR and gives it a more Jenny Lewis feel.

Johnny Marr’s track is the biggest disappointment of The Sun Came Out, meandering along without direction, intent or anything to really grab onto. Never possessing the strongest of voices,Marr’s song could surely have been replaced by one of the many other session tracks.

One of the big surprises is Radiohead’s Phil Selway who steps out from behind the kit and unveils a sweet Elliott Smith/Nick Drake acoustic number. He possesses a gentle keening voice and does well to temper it with mainly organic instrumentation. Lovely stuff.

Duxton Blues is Glenn Richards living out a dream. Imagine turning up with a song and having Johnny Marr and Neil Finn backing you. He doesn’t at all sound phased, delivering a strong track that strips away some of the clutter that sometimes clouds Augie March songs. Duxton Blues has one of the strongest choruses on the album, effortless, swelling and catchy.

7 Worlds Collide again proves to be more than a vanity project. Perhaps it can be criticised for its safeness and lack of stretch and experimentation but Finn’s choice of musicians and the idyllic surroundings dictated that songwriting would be the focus and the strength they would play too. The live concerts (to follow on DVD) will be a fascinating watch and one hopes that it won’t be another 7 years before Finn picks up the phone again.

REVIEW: WILCO – Wilco (the album)

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Reviewed for Fasterlouder

wilcocover450If Wilco ever wanted to use an album as a CV to show off all of their skills then this is the one. Wilco (the album) sees the band taking stock of their career and attempting to summarise it in 42 succinct minutes.

The title alone is a giveaway that the album is a pause to reflect on what they have achieved. The theme is reinforced with ‘Wilco (the song)’ and Jeff Tweedy’s direct address to the fans, pondering the different roles Wilco can play in their lives. “Are you under the impression this isn’t your life, do you dabble in depression” go the opening lines, clearly setting the scene for a somewhat tongue-in-cheek evaluation of the bands worth.

Both ‘Deeper Down’ and ‘Everlasting Feeling’ fit the template of Beatles-esque ballads with their tender piano-led melodies. It is Wilco at its most sensitive, softly spoken and easy listening (but not in a bad way).

‘You Never Know’ and ‘Sonny Feeling’ are the upbeat, good-times Wilco. The latter puts aside any pretensions and rocks and rolls with abandon, much like ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ did on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It is the band at the most flirtatious and sounding like they are having fun.

The two tracks that have the most impact on early listens are ‘You and ‘I featuring Feist on vocals and the spidery krautrock of ‘Bull Black Nova’. You and I is a deceptively simple love song and it works brilliantly. Tweedy and Feist share the microphone rather than alternating verses or lines. It creates an intimate and sweet atmosphere for the song which  deals in the realities of relationships, the good and the bad and the desire to make things work out between two people.

Nels Cline’s guitar playing on the record is sublime and inventive as usual. When he fades into view on ‘You And I’ with a backwards guitar solo it mirrors the reflective theme of the song perfectly; such is the lyrical brilliance of his playing.

‘Bull Black Nova’ is the sole highlight for those who have come to respect and enjoy Wilco for their more experimental free-spirited songs. A standard song structure is thrown out the window and the focus is on the hypnotic rhythms of Glenn Kotche and John Stirratt. Piano and guitar chugs along over the top with ideas coming and going like an aural collage. The song provides a breath of relief among the more standard americana stylings and it is Wilco acknowledging the challenging side of their creativity and reminding us that it still remains strong.

The most interesting question to arise from Wilco (the album) is what will come next? A very good, but not a classic Wilco record, it sits in the second tier of their releases, somewhere alongside AM and Being There. It feels like a pause before another significant chapter in their story and so, as they plan their next move, it is reassuring that they can still create music this consistently good after 15 years of their existence.