Whenever a troubled, brave faced musician hustles enough courage to get better, there is always the inevitability that it may come at the expense of what they do best. Most music fans are probably not afraid to admit that they sometimes dabble in the narcissistic, preferring the art over the artist. Luckily, Jeff Tweedy did not find it necessary to squeeze any of his long time listener’s arms when he decided to get healthy. Instead, he chose to take a personal about face, and make one of the year’s best albums - Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) - along the way.
The demons toying with Tweedy over the years have certainly been well carved into print, film, and record. Dressed up in sympathetic skin for too long, Sky Blue Sky plays like the symbolic shedding he has obviously needed for so long. Straight-faced, honest, and willing to confront what has ailed him in his life, Tweedy crafts some rather poignant songs that sound blown in on the embers of former flames like “Far, Far Away” and “When the Roses Bloom Again”. On the album’s title track, he doesn’t shy away from blending images of a home-town parade in the rain with pain staking touches of his stint in rehab. “Be Patient With Me” – an apologetic, heart quenching, quiet number - owns up to what Tweedy’s life may have put his wife through over the years. And “Impossible Germany” - before leading way to an utterly elegant Nels Cline solo - challenges the human denial that probably kept him from getting better sooner.
Of course, Tweedy wouldn’t sound this good on virtue alone. And on Sky Blue Sky, a solidified lineup of Tweedy, Cline, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Pat Sansone, and Mikael Jorgensen reclaim the understated sound Wilco originally cornered on albums like Summerteeth and Being There. Uncomplicated, comfortable, and classic, songs like “Either Way” and “You Are My Face” sound as authentic as anything the Eagles or the Grateful Dead ever released. I suppose that is just the kind of thing that happens when six talented, mature musicians gather round a room to collaborate in a precise, live recording environment that has been stripped of all engineering dressing.
Sky Blue Sky is apparently the record Tweedy always wanted Wilco to make; though I would argue their entire catalogue is pretty superb. Regardless, its funny what happens when one takes control of their life…they tend get exactly what they want. In Tweedy’s case, he and Wilco got a career album. - David Pitz