Quick Review (LP): Sky Blue Sky by Wilco

Wilco
Sky Blue Sky
Nonesuch; 2007

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: "You Are My Face", "Impossible Germany", "Side With The Seeds", "Please Be Patient With Me", "Leave Me (Like You Found Me)", "What Light"

Please be patient with this album.

TRACK NOTES

“Either Way”

  • Pretty. Love the strings.
  • "Maybe the sun will shine today…"
  • This one is more delicate than Wilco has perhaps ever been.

"You Are My Face"

  • Nice vocal harmonies.
  • Again, this one is delicate. A real change of pace going on.
  • The lyrics here are really interesting. Sonically, they are very musical in and of themselves. Some real verbal substance there as well though.

"Impossible Germany"

  • Amazing.
  • Television does soft rock. The tri-guitar interplay is fantastic.
  • This is what craftsmanship sounds like.
  • And what is the emotion here? Complicated.
  • Here’s my write-up of the track.

"Sky Blue Sky"

  • Tweedy sounds completely in tune with himself, comfortable in his own skin, maybe for the first time.
  • Hushed performance here. Reminds me a lot of the excellent "More Like The Moon" track.
  • "With a sky blue sky/This rotten time/Wouldn’t seem so bad to me now/Oh if I didn’t die/I should be satisfied I survived/It’s good enough for now."

"Side With The Seeds"

  • I wasn’t so sure about this one at first, but it has really grown on me.
  • This may be the liveliest track on the record.
  • Great guitar work from Nels Cline at the end.

"Shake It Off"

  • This one is a bit awkward, but I think it is meant to be.
  • What I mean is, the rhythm is a little stilted, the guitars sound a little off and un-melodic.
  • But I think it’s Tweedy’s communication of a sort of cloudy emotional state.

"Please Be Patient With Me"

  • Gorgeous tune.
  • Not a drum to be found.
  • This one reminds me of The Beatles’ quieter stuff. "I’m Only Sleeping", "Yesterday", etc.

"Hate It Here"

  • This one kind of reminds me of Big Star.
  • I’ve heard this one is supposed to be from his wife’s point of view.
  • I can see how this one would drive people crazy, especially with the direct lyrical approach.
  • That being said, I think there’s more going on here than at first glance.

"Leave Me (Like You Found Me)"

  • What does that piano line remind me of?
  • This one is another gorgeous soft rocker.
  • Nice bass work by Stirratt.

"Walken"

  • Strange spelling – is this song about Christopher Walken? It is sort of dancey.
  • "The more I think about it/The more I know it’s true!"
  • Sort of a goofy tune, but pretty catchy too.
  • They definitely sound like they are having a lot of fun.

"What Light"

  • Nice singalong-er. Almost a sweet drinking song quality to this one.
  • Overall, very simple, but also very appealling. Not a great Wilco track, but a good one.

"On and On and On"

  • This one seems to be a forgotten cut, but it’s really good.
  • Again, mellow, but packs a hefty emotional punch.
  • Nice way to end an album that has been a mix of light and dark.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Great cover image.
  • This album does very little to wow you. In my book, it’s all about the songwriting, the craftsmanship, the sort of patient consideration that requires a bit of thought about which note goes here, which lyric goes there, which instrument gets the emphasis on this or that passage, and how each track precisely fits together.
  • At the same time, there is an intuitive feeling to this album. It’s a bit paradoxical, but I get the sense that Tweedy loved this incarnation of the band and wanted to simply capture what they sounded like at that point in time.
  • One thing I love: there is this incredible 70’s classic rock vibe to the album. It’s really in Tweedy’s songwriting DNA. You can hear it in pretty much everything he does if you listen close enough.
  • All in all, after a 3 album experimental run, this is Wilco settling back into songwriting for songwriting’s sake. The results are frequently breathtaking.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Being There by Wilco

Wilco
Being There
Reprise; 1996

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: "Misunderstood", "Far, Far Away", "Monday", "Outtasite", "Forget the Flowers", "What’s the World Got In Store", "Say You Miss Me", "Sunken Treasure"

Power-pop + Art-punk + Cosmic Americana + Epic country = Classic LP

NOTES

  • "Misunderstood" is the height of transcendence. Brilliant in every conceivable way.
  • First you have those lyrics. ("When you’re back in your old neighborhood/Cigarettes taste so good/But you’re so misunderstood/So misunderstood…")
  • Then the instrumentation. The way different instruments carry the tune by themselves at different times.
  • And Tweedy sounds completely lovesick over rock and roll.
  • "Far, Far Away" is transporting. THAT’s cosmic american music right there. That’s what I think of.
  • "I long to hold you in my arms and sway/Kiss and ride on the CTA"
  • "Monday" sounds like the fusion of Big Star and Grand Funk Railroad. Power pop glory. Love the horns. Brilliant.
  • "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" is a second power pop gem. These guys sound like they are having a blast. Sounds Petty-ish.
  • "Forget the Flowers" is a cool little truck stop country tune. It’s unassuming, but it’s a winner.
  • "Red-Eyed and Blue" is the sort of off-kilter experiment that makes this album so special. Sleigh bells and whistles!
  • "I Got You" is good power-pop, though not as great as tracks 3 and 4.
  • "What’s the World Got In Store" is a personal favorite. Gonna request it when I see them live in a few months.
  • "Hotel Arizona" is a bit of a joke by title alone, but in all reality it’s a pretty cool rock song.
  • What does "Say You Miss Me" remind me of? It’s those background vocals. Fantastic groover regardless.
  • "Sunken Treasure" is one of their greats. "I am so out of tune with you…"
  • "Someday Soon" is another brilliant slice of roadhouse country.
  • "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" is an unncessary aberration on an otherwise brilliant album.
  • I think of Dylan on "Someone Else’s Song." Nice accordion in the background.
  • "Kingpin" is too jammy. In my opinion, filler, though I guess it’s a bit of a highlight live.
  • I like the feel of "Was I In Your Dreams." Sort of woozy, a drunken, lovesick singalong perhaps?
  • "Why Would You Wanna Live" is fairly forgettable. Belongs toward the end of the record.
  • "The Lonely 1" may be kind of pitiful, but it’s gorgeous as well. Reminds me of the film Almost Famous. I love to think of a young kid looking up to his rock star hero.
  • "Dreamer In My Dreams" never really does anything for me. I know they were trying to go for that Stones thing, and it works nice enough on the album, but overall, it’s subpar Wilco. (Is it anything more than a fractured rip-off of "Honky Tonk Women"?)
  • Supposedly based on a film of the same name. Even sounds faintly cinematic.
  • Interesting recording process for this record. Each song was rehearsed, recorded, and mixed on its own day.
  • Apparently 30 songs were recorded. Deluxe edition, anyone?
  • Love the simplicity of the album cover and artwork in general. The album concept is reinforced by the shots of the band in the studio. As for the album cover, nothing really says “being there” in rock and roll like the hand on the guitar. Understated, but appropriate and, to a degree, brilliant.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Big Star: #1 Record (1972)

Big Star
#1 Record
Ardent/Stax; 1972

My Rating: 100/100

Just what can be said about this record that hasn’t already been said, especially in the last few weeks? It’s brilliant, no doubt. And while it was legendarily ignored upon its initial release, it has since become the universally recognized stepping off point for all things power pop. You don’t need me to tell you any of that. All I can really say is that for every year that my youth fades into the rearview mirror, this record gets a little sadder and a little sweeter, all at the same time. With the record’s two chief songwriters having since departed for Indias all their own, even the sunny, powerhouse optimism of lines like “You give me life/And that’s right” come off as bittersweet at best. Over the years, I’ve come to love the song “When My Baby’s Beside Me” most of all, but there is no denying the overpowering nostalgia of “Thirteen”, a song so fragrant and pacifying you’ll feel like you’re slowly slipping into a Downy commercial. God, can any other song make a grown man cry? Whenever I hear it, I visualize all of my childhood friends, bridging the gap between innocence and experience, naive and childish, without a clue and all the better for it. Who wouldn’t want to capture that era forever? Chilton did it in that single song, but the full set of twelve manages to grab all the other angles as well. As I close this review, I’m struck by my utter inability to communicate all that this album means to me. I’d rather just let it speak for itself…

Once I walked a lonely road
Had no one to share my love
But then you came and showed the way
And now I hope you’re here to stay...”

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)

Tracks:

1. Feel (5/5)
2. The Ballad of El Goodo (5/5)
3. In the Street (5/5)
4. Thirteen (5/5)
5. Don’t Lie to Me (5/5)
6. The India Song (5/5)
7. When My Baby’s Beside Me (5/5)
8. My Life Is Right (5/5)
9. Give Me Another Chance (5/5)
10. Try Again (5/5)
11. Watch the Sunrise (5/5)
12. ST 100/6 (5/5)

I Heard the News Today: Alex Chilton Dead at 59

Children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton…

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35923388/ns/entertainment-music

http://www.avclub.com/articles/rip-alex-chilton,39312/

http://stereogum.com/303302/r-i-p-alex-chilton/top-stories/lead-story/

http://pitchfork.com/news/38212-alex-chilton-rip/

So sorry to hear this – music fans have lost a true rock and roll legend, one whose influence can be heard everywhere from R.E.M. to Cheap Trick. The entire genre of “alternative” music is basically a result of a few years of songwriting by this guy. Somewhere, the angels are singing “The Ballad of El Goodo.”

Be sure and give #1 Record/Radio City a listen today in memoriam…

Wilco’s cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen”

9122-big-star-small-worldChoosing to cover an already gorgeous song, especially one as gorgeous as Big Star’s “Thirteen,” may seem like a safe move at first. Taking another point of view, however, there’s a huge potential to “ruin it” for everyone else. Witness: American Idol seasons 1 thru 8. If pressed, I could probably rattle off at least five other cover versions of classic tunes that almost destroy the greatness of the original.

The good news is that Wilco gets it so right that they almost record the definitive version of the song here. Wilco, after all, was bred for songs such as these, sung in the key of midwest kid. While the arrangement does sound a bit like that of BEING THERE’s “The Lonely One,” the joyfully mournful slide guitars are simply perfect. In addition, Wilco slows it down a bit, lending the song a dream-like atmosphere that puts the emphasis in all the right places. I tend to see my own youth in idealized slow motion when I listen to this song.

While I won’t go so far as to say that this cut upstages Big Star’s original, I will say that it does a great job of remaining faithful to the vision of the songwriter, introducing the track to potential new fans, AND bringing a slightly different perspective to the song. When all is said and done, I think that’s what a good cover song should do.