Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy's new solo album 'WARM' is a delight for those who grew up with the band
A year after his solo debut, Jeff Tweedy returns with 'WARM', an intimate acoustic album that's tailor-made for fans who have been growing up with Wilco over the last two decades
On his sophomore solo record 'WARM', Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy invites listeners to lean in around the campfire as he sits with an acoustic guitar and reflects on death, life, love, sobriety, heartache and many other familiar themes from his Wilco days. But even if these themes are familiar to Wilco fans, the treatment and delivery are unlike most of the Americana rock outfit's canonical works.
Sonically landing closer to his side project Tweedy, which he formed with his son Spencer in 2014, and also his solo debut 'Together at Last' which rolled out last year, 'WARM' is devoid of the propulsive rock-centric drive of Wilco and is centered around his acoustic guitar skills instead. If not for his signature Martin 0-18 guitar, then the driving force of the album is unfettered earnestness which pours itself out with every word Tweedy croons.
Album opener 'Bombs Above' starts with stereo guitars that swim around your head and as Tweedy starts off with the self-referential line "All my life I've played a part/ In the bombs above the ones you love", one can't help but notice how his voice has matured over the years.
It's a far cry from his powerful delivery on classic Wilco Albums like 'Sky Blue Sky' and 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot', but by the time you're into the second verse, there's no doubt that it's all Tweedy in there. Of course, with a little help from his usual collaborators Spencer Tweedy, Glenn Kotche and Tom Schick.
The album arrives just a year after Tweedy lost his father. His death was, as Tweedy puts it, "the death that most people would sign up for," as he was surrounded by his loved ones in his final moments. Death forms a major theme of the album itself, and with Tweedy's typical lyrical witticism, he offers several perspectives on it.
On the album opener, he shares wisdom from a drunk man he once met who proclaimed that "suffering is the same for everyone", before adding, "he was right but I was wrong to agree". On the heart-warmingly melodic 'Don't Forget', he sings: "We all think about dying," before adding a deft touch with the line "Don't let it kill 'ya!" He says it with the same earnestness as the next verse where he asks us not to forget to brush our teeth lest we end up with a funny smile.
Tweedy is not belittling death by doing this, but just putting it out there that by virtue of being alive, we all die. And it's but natural to think about these things, especially after you reach a certain point in life.
The three slow-burners of the album — 'How Will I Find You', 'How Hard Is It For A Desert To Die' and 'Having Been Is No Way To Be' — are placed craftily through the record as Tweedy forces you to pay more attention with the shift in tempo, and the extra attention is well rewarded. For longtime fans of Wilco who have aged and matured with Tweedy, 'WARM' is an album that hits right at home and, without a doubt, is one they will appreciate the most.
Although the album is quite distant from Wilco's material, it is still not entirely devoid from some stunts that Wilco fans will find familiar. There are no sprawling interludes and walls of sounds that build into huge crescendos, with all the songs apart from the album closer 'How Will I Find You?' wrapping up within a neat five minutes, but on 'From Far Away', the off-kilter drums and fuzzy noises in the background seem all too delightfully familiar.
On the craftily titled 'Having Been Is No Way To Be', Tweedy brazenly talks about his addiction and its effects on his art. Fittingly, toward the end of the song, the instrumentation shifts to a minor scale and gets dark and dreary (reminiscent of the dissonant interludes in Wilco's 'I am Trying to Break Your Heart') before heading towards the light again.
The trickster in Tweedy also presents himself on the folksy, country-flecked singalong 'Let's Rain Again'. Unless you're paying careful attention to the lyrics and not just humming along to the happy tune, you'll never see that it's an invitation for a second Biblical flood to wipe out all that we've become.
The sparse and simple instrumentation and the ragged-around-the-edges production add a nice touch to 'WARM'. It gives the album an all-too-human touch. Over 25 years into Wilco's career, 'WARM' is an album that demonstrates how Tweedy has matured over the years. Perhaps it can also be viewed as an acoustic companion to Tweedy's recently released memoir 'Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.'. Whatever be the case, there's no denying that 'WARM' holds, and will continue to hold, a significant place in the canon of the Illinois alt-country rocker.
Essential Tracks: 'Don't Forget', ‘Having Been Is No Way To Be’, 'I Know What It's Like'