In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says; “Tweedy pulls it off effortlessly.”
These days, Wilco are the kings of white, middle class dad rock. I say that as a massive Wilco fan. I might not be a dad, but I’m a white dude closer to 40 than 30, who was willing to pay a whole lot of money for pretty crappy seats last time the band came through Melbourne. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to call Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy one of the leading, scene defining troubadours of a generation. But 20 years ago, he was the dude from Uncle Tupelo (the indie darlings who never quite broke big) who had started a new band. A band called Wilco, who announced their presence with A.M.
While I Must Be High is standard guitar pop/rock stuff, Casino Queen lives up to the alt-country tag that was attached to this band for a long, long time. It’s roadhouse, country rock with blues harp paired perfectly with its country fiddle. The group vocals also make it a song begging for a live crowd to sing/yell along to.
More polished, less strained in Tweedy’s vocals and coming across as confident enough to know that it doesn’t need to be in our face to grab our attention, Box Full of Letters isn’t a million miles away from the present day version of the band.
When I see the current version of Jeff Tweedy, his raggedy, grey beard and dishevelled hair perfectly matches the melancholy and heartbreak that so many of his songs convey. It must have been strange to see a fresh faced, barley 30 year old Tweedy deliver the earnest emotion needed to pull off a song like I Thought I Held You. This banjo plucked, pedal steel filled lament shouldn’t work under the guidance of a dude so young. But Tweedy pulls it off effortlessly.
Then there’s That’s Not the Issue, sounding like it was pulled straight form a chase scene in a Smokey and the Bandit movie. Later, Passenger Side takes the clichéd sadness of country music, but doesn’t need any of the genre affectations to convey that sadness. It’s basically guitar, bass and drums (maybe a hint of violin?), but the slow tempo means everyone has to sustain every note and beat for as long as possible, looking for (and always finding) real emotion to justify those elongated moments.
But it’s a frenetic punch to the face compared to the stripped down restraint that is Dash 7, Blued Eyed Soul and Too Far Apart. If Wilco’s intent was to close out A.M with as little flourish as possible, while delivering maximum impact, mission accomplished.
Wilco has had over a dozen official members over the years. And the only one to have been alongside Tweedy for all them is bass player John Stirratt. And while I think Tweedy’s song writing was already pretty phenomenal on A.M, there’s a simplicity to the arrangements on these songs that makes me appreciate the input of later members as the band found a little more complexity and a few more sonic layers.