The Lowdown: Where exactly does Wilco end and Jeff Tweedy begin? It’s always been tough to decipher. Together at Last, released in 2017, was a solo record insofar as it was Tweedy performing Wilco songs all by his lonesome. And while the singer broke off to record Sukierae with his namesake group in 2014, the end result was still as close as one could get to a Wilco record without it actually being one.
Now we have WARM, which while technically Tweedy’s second solo record is his first comprised completely of original music. Like its non-Wilco predecessors, the 11-track affair doesn’t do much to create dividers between the man and his long-running band. But it does tie in closer with some chapters of the band’s history than others.
The Good: “I leave behind a trail of songs, from the darkest gloom to the brightest sun,” Tweedy whisper-sings on album-opener “Bombs Away”. The songs on WARM run that gamut, making the record representative of the full depth and breadth of Tweedy’s songwriting scope. The music is more in step with Wilco’s twangy, alt-country roots than the experimental genre-bending that has won him acclaim in the years since (Don’t worry, there’s some adventurous magic to tracks like “The Red Brick” and “How Will I Find You”). That country rock (duh) warmth, meanwhile, contrasts with Tweedy’s lyrical ruminations on life, death, mistakes made, and opportunities missed. Maybe the singer’s recently released memoir has put him in an extra reflective mood, but WARM is a record that nicely balances levity and weight, often all at once. (“We all think about dying,” he sings on “Don’t Forget”. “Don’t Let it kill ya.”)
The Bad: Let’s split hairs. In the end, WARM might become a victim of its creator’s artistic consistency. Tweedy’s music in its many iterations has been so good for so long that it’s easy to take for granted. WARM is a very good if not-quite-great record, but it’s hard to imagine people dwelling on it years down the road the way fans do, say, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost Is Born. That may be an unfair critique, but it’s a realistic one.
The Verdict: Jeff Tweedy has long grown into his standing as one of rock music’s most innovative songwriters, which might make WARM’s more stripped-down and folksier approach somewhat surprising. But this isn’t the sound of regression. Instead, it’s the work of a seasoned songwriter proving that he’s as good at penning powerful, personal songs in a traditional vein as he is layering records with bells and whistles. WARM skews heavily toward the former, but fortunately Tweedy is a maverick as capable of breaking your heart with an acoustic guitar as he is bending musical styles to his will.
Essential Tracks: “Bombs Above”, “Don’t Forget”, and “I Know What It’s Like”