FUV's New Dig: Tweedy
Wilco fans can relax. Wilco is alive and well.
Fans of Wilco and their frontman, Jeff Tweedy, may have been concerned when news came out that Jeff was recording an album away from his beloved band. As it turns out, this new album signals not just the beginning of a new phase in Jeff Tweedy's career, but an extension of Wilco's collective vision, as all their external projects have been.
Don't think of Sukierae (pronounced 'sue-key-ray') as a Jeff Tweedy solo album. This is the work of a duo who happen to be father and son. And don't think of this as a side project, created as a lark during some downtime, tossed out as a one-off curio. Sukierae is a serious collection of Jeff Tweedy-penned songs, jointly developed in the studio by Jeff and his 18-year-old drummer son, Spencer.
Father and son. Jeff and Spencer. Tweedy. The album gets its title from Jeff's wife, Susan Miller Tweedy, who was diagnosed with a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier this year -- "Sukierae" is Susan's nickname. The new songs were inspired by Jeff's attempts to view his wife's illness in a positive light.
The Sukierae sessions started seamlessly after the work ended on Mavis Staples' latest album, One True Vine -- which Jeff produced and both father and son played on. With Wilco on hiatus and several of its members working on other projects, Jeff started working on demos of the songs he'd recently written.
The initial plan was to create a solo album that was more than just acoustic guitar and vocals. To help develop the demos, Jeff's son Spencer joined the project to play drums. That's when the true collaboration was born. Spencer was much more than a simple timekeeper during the sessions. While his talents are raw, he proved to be more than capable of putting a unique stamp on the proceedings. He pushed the songs, and his father, by adding his rhythmic personality. His playing combines choppy rhythms mixed with smooth shuffles; there are sudden stops and starts, and odd time signatures. It's an approach that seems simple yet complex at the same time, and it's critical to the overall feel of the album.
Jeff and Spencer get some help on the album from vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the band Lucius, as well as Scott McCaughey, who plays some keyboards. Sukierae boasts twenty songs spread over two discs (although it could have fit on one CD) and possesses the type of variations one would expect from Wilco, but with a singular vison. Jeff has described the album as a solo album performed by a duo.
The album ranges from the soft, acoustic "Honey Combed" and spare "Where My Love" to the galloping "World Away" and poppy "Low Key." "I'll Sing It" and "Diamond Light Part 1" are more intricate in rhythm and construction; "Slow Love" is denser and experimental; while "Wait For Love" channels Jeff's inner Neil Young.
It's all in the family for Tweedy, and it will be interesting to see what effect this family affair will have on the next Wilco endeavor.
• Hear the whole album as an NPR First Listen
• Hear a live Wilco show from the 2013 Solid Sound Festival
• Jeff Tweedy's Studio A Session in the FUV Vault from 2006
• Sample tracks and/or buy 'em (purchases benefit WFUV):