Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tweedy: An Emotional and Sincere Solo Album from Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy's debut solo album, Tweedy, features 20 songs of catchy hooks and emotionally wrenching lyrics.  With his son Spencer on drums and local Chicago musicians to back him, Tweedy once again displays a versatility rare in modern singer/songwriters with influences ranging from classic rock, punk, and alt-country.  In interviews Tweedy has spoken at length about how his wife's cancer diagnosis made the recording of the album a wrenching, but cathartic experience.

Throughout the album, Tweedy seems to be in conversation with his wife, his two sons, his parents, and himself in songs of introspection ranging from hope, sadness, and everything in between.  Opening with "I Don't Want to Be So Misunderstood" expresses a cry into the abyss, an infantile response to to the mystery of life.  Then "High As Hello" chills things out with a neo-psychedelic groove.

References to Wilco songs appear throughout. '"World Away" opens with "I only want to feel this morning/catch the avenue" may allude to "I assassin down the avenue" from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  His lyrics vary from stream of consciousness word associations to the direct, as evidenced in his 2004 poetry collection, Adult Head.  For example "Diamond Light Part I" starts out with the lines:

Why don't we pick one script
and read it
Where the Milk Has Dried
on the Throne.

Others are less abstract, for example on "New Moon"

Well I've always been certain nearly all of my life
One day I'd be your burden and you would be my wife

Musically, there's a heavy Lennon and McCartney influence. Tweedy has the pop sensibilities of Paul and the lyrical panache of John.  "Low Key" and "Flowering." "Slow Love" includes a nice George Harrison like manta.  But there's much more here: hints of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead are everywhere.

Recurring themes include the search for maturity and wisdom.  Where do we find strength to keep going?  How do we accept mortality of ourselves and others? On the standout track "Summer Noon" Tweedy sings

Never leave your mother's womb
Unless you wanna see how hard 
a broken heart can swoon.

The soulful music and fragile emotion on Tweedy make it one of the best albums I've heard in 2014. A few years ago the hipster scribes at Pitchfork snidely labeled Tweedy and Wilco as "dad rock." Maturity and grace may not be cool, but they're worthy pursuits in art.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Charlie Daniels Band: Off the Grid: Doin it Dylan *** out of five

Charlie Daniels played session guitar player for Bob Dylan in 1969 and 1970 and went on to build a solid career influencing both Southern Rock and modern country. Dylan has always championed country music and incorporated the influence into his own music, most notably on his 1969 album Nashville Skyline. Daniels reworks ten Dylan classics into some delightful ramshackle country.  The sound flows nicely on tunes like "I'll be Your Baby Tonight" and "Country Pie," and "Quinn the Eskimo (Mighty Quinn)." All perfectly suit Daniel's twangy style.  On others like "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Just Like a Woman" the arrangements are a bit repetitive, but Daniels enthusiastic vocals carry the day.  Overall, the collection is laid back and without pretension. That's a good thing.