Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v04n12)
Rick On The Records - by Rick Zeigler
posted: Jun. 15, 2007
WILCO-SKY BLUE SKY
Wilco has released two of the most critically acclaimed albums of this decade, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel and A Ghost Is Born. Both were characterized by the interplay of leader Jeff Tweedy's melodic, usually laid-back songs with the avant-garde tendencies of guitarist and helpmate Jim O'Rourke, resulting in an unusual fusion of mainstream pop/rock and avant experimentalism. Now comes the follow up to Ghost, Sky Blue Sky.
Unlike the previous two albums, the emphasis here is decidedly on the more mainstream side of things, with mellow, mid-tempo melodies lending the predominant atmospheres of the album. Jim O'Rourke, while still present, seemingly has a much smaller role on this album. But the avant textures beloved by Tweedy and his band are not entirely absent, as guitarist extraordinaire Nels Cline has been "promoted" from touring member to lead guitarist of the group. Cline is himself highly regarded as an experimental guitarist, and his work here does not disappoint. The highlights of this album involve those tunes where the predominant gentleness of Tweedy's writing is intertwined with Cline's liquid, spidery leads. While the tug-of-war between the experimental and mainstream on Wilco's previous two albums often led to disjunctions between or within songs (e.g., the "white noise" interlude on Ghost), when Cline takes the lead here, Sky Blue Sky joins the two approaches in a much more harmonious fashion. "Impossible Germany," for example, glides along effortlessly on a Tweedy melody, which then is punctuated by a Cline solo that fits perfectly, yet seems to come from a different album altogether. It shouldn't work, but it does so beautifully. Even more impressive, this interweaving was not accomplished by the usual method of having each musician lay down their parts individually and then combining them on the mixing desk. Instead, this is the sound of a full band playing together, all captured live on (old-fashioned) two-inch tape. As for the effects of Tweedy's oft-noted stint in rehab, his lyrics definitely seem to be more reflective and accepting of his surroundings and circumstances, as exemplified by the title song (and by the title, itself, for that matter). Sky Blue Sky, while perhaps not reaching the consistently-giddy heights of its predecessors, is, nevertheless, a supremely-accomplished effort. And when Cline puts forth his lead guitar lines, Wilco shows it still has the ability to offer, something both refreshingly familiar and bracingly new at the same time.
RICHARD THOMPSON-SWEET WARRIOR
Richard Thompson has put out, either solo or with others, over thirty records in the last forty years. But, somehow, when people try to recall artists from the sixties who are still putting out new material today, his name is usually forgotten. This is so even as he is extolled as one of the finest guitarists, be it electric or acoustic, of his generation. His work is usually characterized by a blend of blues, Americana, rock, and English/Celtic folk, a combination he has uniquely explored throughout his career and which also makes his songs equally at home in the rock or folk canons. Sweet Warrior is Thompson's latest work, and, unlike his last few albums, showcases his deft use of his electric side. One riff after another is effortlessly peeled off, with short, concise lead lines spun out just as easily. Sweet Warrior may also be Thompson's strongest effort since 1991's Rumour and Sigh, and it contains one bona fide classic, "Dad's Gonna Kill Me." This is one of those timeless anti-war songs, with Iraq as the setting. On this tune, Thompson employs his acoustic arsenal and adds the glorious violin of Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek to paint a melancholy and angry portrait of the soldier's lot. Lyrically, the rest of the album does not stray far from Thompson's usual dour outlook on the world, whether it involves interpersonal relationships or societal misadventures (indeed, it may well be his dourness that has kept him on the sidelines of superstardom). And while not every tune works, with "Mr. Stupid" and "Too Late To Come Fishing" plodding along in bog-standard style, Sweet Warrior is a welcome addition to the works of a talented and, on these shores, too-often-overlooked artist.
Rick Zeigler, along with his wife, Jeanne, owns Indy CD and Vinyl at 806 Broad Ripple Avenue. Back in his musician days, his band opened for the likes of U2, XTC, Gang Of Four, The Pretenders, Los Lobos, and, um, Flock Of Seagulls, among others. You can read all of Rick's reviews at www.indycdandvinyl.com. Email your music questions and comments to rick@BroadRippleGazette.com