It’s been nearly a month since Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (with the help of son Spencer) dropped the first true solo record of his 20+ years in music with Sukierae. In that time the father and son duo (along with the help of some friends) have extensively toured the country, rolled out a music video, appeared on everything from The Tonight Show to The Colbert Report, and have more or less impressed fans and critics alike with this gutsy double album debut.
Now as for my own personal perspective? Given the span of this material and the deep admiration I’ve had for the elder Tweedy’s work these past six years, I had to take Sukierae and it’s twenty songs as a slow sip rather than a chugging gulp, and I think it’s more rewarding that way. I referred to the record as “gutsy” there a moment ago, and it isn’t so much because it takes big chances or pushes the sonic landscape so much as it challenges the endurance of the listener.
In the era of overnight pop single sensations and social media-hyped flameouts that are more style than substance, it’s rare that our collective attention spans ever really get pushed very far. But the Tweedy duo most certainly shoves, and Sukierae emerges less as something that needs to be “pruned”, so much as a retrospective of the best parts of Jeff Tweedy’s career.
And while it may not exactly be a call back to the hyper-prolific abundance of material that was Wilco’s early 2000’s with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost Is Born, Sukierae contains familiar nods to experimentation (“Diamond Light Pt 1”, “World Away”) as well as Tweedy’s ever-present knack for songwriting (“Nobody Dies Anymore”, “Summer Noon”). In fact the more stripped away the moments get the more his words seem to shine with this one; not so much for their depth of content perhaps so much as how they’re said.
Tweedy has long had this evocative quality as a singer and storyteller to make you believe and believe in what he’s saying; it’s a level of emotional ease and gravitas that many other artists would be envious to capture time and again as he does. That quality sparkles most on songs like “Pigeons”, “Honey Combed” and the piano dirge “Where My Love”, which feels like combing the most sensitive depths of Tweedy’s themes on family, loss and coping with wife Sue’s cancer diagnosis. It’s a record that manages to stay above the weight of it’s subjects, but also gives them the freedom to breathe across the span of it’s twenty tracks.
All in all, Sukierae is one of Jeff Tweedy’s most refreshing releases in the last several years. While Wilco continues to be one of the best and most varied touring bands in America to date, the group is almost a little too slick and a little too polished nowadays, so 2014 feels like an appropriate time for Tweedy to take a solo turn with a few more bumps and bends in the road. With son Spencer in tow (who is a damn talented drummer at only 18 years old), he couldn’t have better company to do it.