When most frontmen go acoustic, it’s either a cheap shot at a solo career, a misguided attempt to indulge an inner Nick Drake that doesn’t exist or a kiss-off to the bassist who shagged his girlfriend. For Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, though, it’s a lure of nature. His literate alt-rock songs have always shot folk-like threads of connection and empathy through the hearts of his worshipful fanbase, and Americana country music has long been his bedrock.
So, like Elvis Costello, who influenced Wilco’s 1999 classic album ‘Summerteeth’, going rootsy feels second nature to Tweedy; he’s played several stunning solo tours in recent years and in 2017 released an album consisting of Wilco songs recorded acoustically, launching a series of stripped-back retrospective albums under the banner ‘Loft Acoustic Sessions’.
‘Warm’ diverts from the series to take in 40 minutes of new material, kept from trad triteness by Tweedy’s left-field lustre. The pedal steel dustiness of ‘Bombs Above’ is offset by a late-Lennon crackle to his voice and a post-modern twist to the country singer confessional: “What I’ve been through shouldn’t matter to you”. ‘Some Birds’ bristles with Bright Eyes edginess and ‘Let’s Go Rain’ could’ve fallen off the second album from defunct London indie band Tribes. Meanwhile, comforting slices of alt-country ennui like ‘Warm (When The Sun Has Died)’, ‘I Know What It’s Like’ (“…to not feel pain”) and ‘Don’t Forget’ display a melodic nimbleness far beyond the standard alligator-booted Americana plodder. There’s even a spaced out, fuzzed up raga drone called ‘The Red Brick’, which breaks every rule in Grabbing The Dad Dollar: The Acoustic Method.
When the pace slackens on ‘How Will I Find You’, ‘How Hard Is It For A Desert To Die’ and ‘Having Been Is No Way To Be’ (the latter the sort of surely-I-can-handle-a-crafty-one conversation every shell of an ex-drug addict has with themselves two weeks after quitting), even Tweedy can’t help but drift towards trad tedium.
But as the lovelorn ‘From Far Away’ floats by, desolate and broken, haunted by the ghosts of art-rock guitars and phantom electronics, it’s clear that Jeff Tweedy still isn’t comfortable on well-trodden roads and that ‘Warm’ has moments that upend Americana as beautifully as ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ did with US indie rock. One to let simmer.