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Wilco (from the album Cruel Country
Wilco (from the album Cruel Country available on dBpm Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
Eclectic outfit Wilco return with their twelfth studio album – an admirably long run for a band which has managed to successfully straddle the divide between the accessible and the alternative. Formed in Chicago in the mid-90s following the dissolution of Alternative Country godfathers Uncle Tupelo, Wilco employed a fluctuating line-up for the first decade of their existence. The players on Cruel Country, however, represent a stable team stretching back to 2004s A Ghost Is Born. Core members Jeff Tweedy (vocals) and John Stirratt have been here since the start, and are ably assisted by Glenn Kotche (drums), Mikael Jorgensen (keys), Nels Cline (guitars) and Pat Sansone (keys).
We get a generous twenty-one songs on this double album, the band's first in three years. Wilco's sound has always been difficult to pin down yet, at the same time, immediately recognizable, blending elements of Pop, Alt Rock, British Invasion, experimental, and, of course, American Country music. For this set, Jeff Tweedy took the unusual step of stating, in an open letter, ‘...there have been elements of Country music in everything we’ve ever done...we’ve never been particularly comfortable with accepting that definition...With this album though, Wilco is digging in and calling it Country’.
Country is certainly is, although with a band such as this, nothing is ever as straight-forward as it might at first seem. Album opener “I Am My Mother” rolls in on shuffling guitars, sliding pedal steel, and rattling percussion. As you would expect from a group of this quality, there is plenty enough variation and inventiveness to keep you listening. Lyrically, Wilco have never been less than interesting: ‘If it were up to me, I would have rejected, the idea that money can keep you poor’.
Whether it be the adventurous lyrics, subtle changes of dynamics, or unconventional structure, you could not mistake this set as being anything other than contemporary, but then that's not the point. The poignancy, instrumentation and rolling feel of classic Americana undoubtedly colours this fine record. The title track sways and clip-clops, with old-timey percussion and walking bass. The faster tempo “Hints” adds beautiful and unobtrusive horn-like keyboards and shining, slipping guitar. ‘We'd rather kill than compromise’ sings Tweedy, possibly referring to the current polarized state of politics.
A thousand tiny moments make up this record. So packed full of detail are the songs that it will take a listener a good while to fully absorb the music, and I mean that in the best possible way. From the harder-rocking “All Across the World” to the relatively stripped-back “The Universe”, Wilco present a wonderfully varied but remarkably cohesive sound-scape. This is indeed Country music but here Wilco are as much looking forward as back, unpretentious, honest, and heartfelt – surely the genre's defining characteristics. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of Wilco from AMAZON
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