Tag Archives: Uncle Tupelo

Blast From The Past: Wilco

Tangents are wonderful things…

While reading the Morgan Taylor interview the other day, I noticed that he’d opened a lot of shows for Wilco. That made me pull out Being There and Summerteeth; both those records sound perfect when Spring is trying to shake off the doldrums and give you a warm day or two. and despite my town setting its all time record for rain during the month of April, birds and buds and ants are telling me that little liar groundhog’s ruse is almost over.

In other words, my review of Summerteeth from 1999 in…

When asked about his plans for Wilco after Being There had caught people off guard, Jeff Tweedy hinted that the band would most likely take another unexpected turn and create “a twisted pop record“. Let it never be said that Tweedy is not a man of his word.

Once again self-produced by the band (Tweedy, Jay Bennett, John Stirratt and Ken Coomer), Summerteeth thrives on the juxtaposition of introspective, sometimes dense, lyrical wordplay fleshed out in a rainbow of musical style. There are several songs that will immediately strike the listener as upbeat, sing-along melodies, yet underneath lurk images of loneliness, confusion and unfulfilled dreams.

Video: “Candyfloss

Candyfloss” jumps out of the speakers with a bouncy, 60s pop calliope beat, yet Tweedy’s confessional says otherwise: “I’m the boy who looks excited/I’m the boy who’se gonna fall apart…I’m the boy who eats his heart out…” . Likewise, the opener, “Can’t Stand It” is a groove rocker but boasts a chorus that states “our dreams will never be answered again“.

Via Chicago” is one of the few that matches sonic pulse with lyrical imagery. Slow and deliberate, the opening line is as disturbing as the distorted, feedback-laden guitar solo that cradles the fade-out: “Dreamed about killing you again last night / and it felt all right to me…”. Then – just as your heart and brain are splattered across the floor – “ELT (Every Little Thing)” rockets out of the speakers like the hit single it should be, a cousin to Bowie’sHeroes” filtered through The Byrds. It’s another song of lost opportunity or maybe Fate’s warning, but which? Hopeful or hopeless? Tweedy’s deft pen leaves that open to your imagination, and depending upon your mood, it will be either.

Video: “ELT (Every Little Thing)

The title track, like “Candyfloss” and “ELT“, will no doubt pump out of radios all summer long. No matter that the subject is denial about the rut that his life has become; the infectious refrain will have you singing along with the “ooh-ahh” background vocals (with lilting keyboards and chirping birds, no less) and have you daydreaming as well. “My Darling” and the stark “We’re Just Friends” echo Big Star circa Sister Lovers with a little Brian Wilson harmony thrown in, while “You Wake Up Feeling Old” is ironically finger-snapping pop.

The band must have gathered up every instrument in the studio and then some – bells, bird chirps, penny whistles, shakers, flutes, horns and tympani are sparingly but creatively used throughout the record. And as he promised, Tweedy has stripped down the band and reconstructed its direction, a move that will probably alienate some diehard Uncle Tupelo purists (assuming they aren’t already pissed off) but should thrill anyone with an open mind and a respect for the art of songwriting. Summerteeth is funky, soulful, rocking, heartbreaking, pensive and explosive – in short, a masterpiece.

Wilcoworld

Listen to clips here

Roger that!

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Blast From The Past: Whiskeytown

When the insurgent roots music movement started to take hold – call it alt-country, No Depression or Y’Alternative music – a flood of bands that tied back to Gram Parsons, Neil Young and classic country artists from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash started to milk a serious buzz. Near the front of the pack was a loosely raucous band from Raleigh, North Carolina called Whiskeytown, and their lead martyr singer and songwriter Ryan Adams.

A skilled and interesting collaborative band (with Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric “Skillet” Gilmore and Mike Daly), Whiskeytown released its debut Faithless Street, which bowled over critics and landed them a major label deal. By the time the second album Stranger’s Almanac was released, the group was known for its self-destructive tendencies as much as its musical brilliance, the lion’s share of that squarely on the head of Adams. Reading interviews at the time I realized that I was watching someone emulating Keith Richards; I just didn’t know how much of it was by accident.

Thankfully, I was wrong about Adams in a multitude of ways. He didn’t drink himself into an early grave, even when the band imploded in 2000. In fact, he was so prolific between 2000 and 2005 (eight releases!) that the plaudits became even more gargantuan. Like some of his heroes and influences, he juggled both popular acclaim and commercial success, and it looked like he was a step away from releasing that album or song that would place his name on everyone’s lips (or perhaps spontaneously combust).

Having juggled the solo image and with his more traditional band The Cardinals, he opted for the latter and released two more albums over the next five years. Like contemporaries and heroes Wilco, he’s prone to experiment with styles and now has left them to form a rock trio. I haven’t even heard Orion, his newest record; I’m not certain I want to hear Ryan Adams doing metal (even if he did get his start in a punk band). But there’s no denying the early classics, and I hope he still has a few tricks like that left in his worn out sachel.

Here’s my short shot review of Strangers Almanac from 1997:

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Ryan Adams is a hell of a songwriter for a guy in his early twenties, but I’d get the suicide watch started right now. Desperation set to music works both ways, and Adams mines the vein like the forefathers he so drunkenly pretends he isn’t influenced by (perhaps his own line sums it up best – “I can’t stand to be under your wing”). When he’s more uptempo he wears his Paul Westerberg on his sleeve (“Yesterday’s News”) and other times a Neil Young ghost will rear its head (“Turn Around”).

But he’s also savvy enough to diversify the instrumentation. Fiddle and horns alternately pick a song up (“Sixteen Days”) and take it out at the knees (the pained and haunting “Everything I Do”). One of the most powerful and depressing records of 1997, and I mean those both as compliments.

Listen to clips from Strangers Almanac

Whiskeytown page at Lost Highway Records


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