Triple Played: Wilco’s newest album could be one of its best
It is hard to believe that I have been listening to Wilco for over 20 years now. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was listening to Uncle Tupelo’s masterpiece “Anodyne,” marveling at the incredible mix of country rock and alternative with punk tendencies.
It was 1993 and it seemed like Uncle Tupelo was going to be around for a long time. Not to be. Shortly after that, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, the songwriters, lead singers and founding members of the band, had a nasty break-up over the band’s direction. That lead them to go off and form their own bands so each could carry out their very different ideas of where the music was headed.
Jay Farrar formed Son Volt, reflecting his stark, slow-moving folky country, roots bluegrass mix. Their first two albums, “Trace” from 1995 and “Straightaways” from 1997, are their best, with “Wide Swing Tremelo” in 1998 and “American Central Dust” in 2009 coming in a close second. All in all Son Volt has released seven albums between 1995 and 2013. I always liked Son Volt, but I preferred Tweedy’s songs and voice over those of Farrar.
Tweedy and the other remaining members of Uncle Tupelo formed Wilco, whose first record, “Being There,” also released in 1995, is a wonderful collection of three-minute pop masterpieces that really showcase Tweedy’s diversity as a songwriter. I liked it right away and still do, but that is the only record of Wilco’s that I can say that about. “Being There,” Wilco’s second record, was a two-CD set from 1996 that I must admit took me a few listens before I started to like the record. But like it I did, and it has stuck with me over the years. That would be the same prescription for almost all of their records, especially the next three: “Summer Teeth,” “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost Is Born,” which were released between 1999 and 2004.
Wilco gained a lot of fans locally with those three releases. During that time Wilco recorded two records with Billy Bragg, “Mermaid Avenue” in 1998 and “Mermaid Avenue Vol. II” in 2000. “Sky Blue Sky” from 2007 really pushed the band over the top as far as going fans goes. It was their most accessible recording in 10 years. During the tour to support that record they made a stop at the Avalon in Grand Junction in 2008, thanks to Ron Wilson and Sandstone Concerts. They treated a sold-out house to a great show that featured 24 songs with two encores. My then 18-year-old son Matthew and I had a great time.
From 2009 to 2016 Wilco released “Wilco the Album,” “The Whole Love” and “Star Wars,” all very good records with maybe Wilco’s best lineup to date giving Tweedy the confidence to explore his muse to its fullest.
All of this has led to Wilco’s newest release, “Schmilco,” officially released today on CD. It has been available on LP since Tuesday, when there was a Wilco listening party. As for “Schmilco,” I have now listened to it several times and I really like it. It kind of reminds me of their first record, poppy songs with a Beatles-esque feel to many of them, with a little bit of everything they have learned in the 21 years since their first record. Potentially this could be one of Wilco’s best. Only time will tell.