As I sat listening to Jeff Tweedy’s newest collection of acoustic covers called Together At Last, the thing that hit me first was how much my friend Mark would’ve loved it. Wilco, and in particular Jeff Tweedy, was one of the things we bonded over when we first got to know each other. Wilco and Kurt Vonnegut. But with Wilco and Tweedy we were always amazed by how you could take some of Wilco’s most densest musical creations and deconstruct them down to nothing but Tweedy and an acoustic guitar and you could be just as moved. In the songs sparsest form it still grabbed you and squeezed. Without all the bells and whistles the song craft still shines like autumn sunlight. Mark used to say that when you can get a song across with nothing more than a guitar and voice, then you knew you had something. Jeff Tweedy’s Together At Last proves that in spades.
Jeff Tweedy has been one of the single most influential musical voices of my generation. For me personally, only maybe The Beatles and Ray Davies have moved me and inspired me as much as Jeff Tweedy. He speaks both lyrically and musically through these poetic notions of broken-hearted but trying my best affections. So many of his songs seem like puzzles that take time to put together fully on record, but in their bruised, frail acoustic form their beauty becomes all the more apparent. Something like “Via Chicago” has become a live staple of both folk beauty and aggressive explosions of raw noise. On Together At Last he turns it into a quaint and flowing murder ballad. Dreaming about murder never sounded so sweet. A Ghost Is Born’s “Muzzle Of Bees” has the gauze removed to show a freshly healed wound, the air refreshing as it hits the scar. “Ashes Of American Flags” could be a Woody Guthrie track if it weren’t for Tweedy’s eloquent knack for making the mundane sound poetic(“I could spent three dollars and sixty-three cents/On Diet Coca-Cola and unlit cigarettes“.) Jeff also unearths the Summerteeth deep cut “In A Future Age”. He quipped once at a show I saw in Chicago “So did any of you listen all the way to the end of Summerteeth to know this next one?” The crowd was very pleased to hear this beautiful track then, and I’m very pleased to hear it on this record in intimate form.
As well as the Wilco catalog, Tweedy digs into both Loose Fur and Golden Smog. “Lost Love” off of Golden Smog’s Weird Tales sounds even prettier with nothing more than Tweedy and his acoustic, but the highlight for me is Tweedy playing Loose Fur’s “Laminated Cat”. I’ve always been a fan of Loose Fur, and in-particular their self-titled debut. There was an air of breezy experimentation and 70’s-style loose grooves that always grabbed me with that album, and “Laminated Cat” opened the album like a punch to the gut. Here Tweedy whittles it down to its cyclical, psychedelic essence and it’s pure bliss.
Listening to Together At Last felt like catching up with an old friend. While I might not have fallen head over heals for the last few Wilco albums, I’ve never stopped loving Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting. And Wilco have easily made four of the best albums to come out in the last two and a half decades, all in a row from 1996 thru 2004. Easily. This record seems to capture some of that Tweedy magic within the grooves of the LP. He’s heartfelt and engaging. Jeff Tweedy gets these classic songs across with nothing more than voice and guitar. No bells and whistles(with the exception of some whistling in “Dawned On Me”.)
This is the kind of record that would’ve prompted a late night email from Mark to me, saying something like “Man have you heard the new Tweedy album yet? Soooo good. He’s still one of the best. I’m excited to write again.”
Yep, Mark would’ve loved this one.