I guess on some level the idea of a father and son collaboration has been romanticized in my head. I can’t help but think how cool it would be to play in a band with my son(or daughter for that matter.) A collaboration between father and child just seems like that perfect connection of heredity, art, and family togetherness. Not that Partridge Family crap, but hanging out in the studio, father and child and creating art together. Of course, when I think about how I was in my late teens I can’t imagine I would’ve thought jamming with my dad would be all that great. So, maybe this is just a one-way longing kind of thing. Maybe you can’t appreciate that sort of connection until you’re a dad yourself.
So I guess the boy and I won’t be writing an album together anytime soon. That’s okay because I’ll just live out that fantasy through Jeff and Spencer Tweedy and their wonderful album Sukierae(named after the Tweedy matriarch, Sue Tweedy.) The father/son collaboration known as Tweedy was one of my favorite albums in 2014, and going back and revisiting it the last couple of days I’m astounded at just how good it is all over again. The album was made at the Wilco Loft by just Jeff and Spencer after Spencer would get home from school. They had some help with some extra guitar work and production from a handful of folks, but for the most part this was Jeff Tweedy writing songs, Spencer playing drums, and Jeff playing pretty much everything else.
A family affair.
Originally Sukierae was going to be Jeff Tweedy’s first solo album, with the album intending to be a collection of singer/songwriter songs; sparsely ornamented and acoustic-driven. But once son Spencer started showing up at the studio and playing along with dad’s tracks the solo record became a father and son collaboration in the best way possible.
Personally I think this is the best Wilco-related release since 2007s Sky Blue Sky. Like that record, the songwriting on Sukierae feels natural, earnest, and void of pretension. There’s an honesty in these tracks; you can practically hear pen to paper as if Tweedy is writing these songs in front of you. On Wilco(The Album) and The Whole Love, while still presenting wonderfully arranged tracks and intriguing writing, those albums almost felt overbaked and overthought. There was little to no breathing room. A feeling of claustrophobia permeated those albums, to my ears anyways. When you have six incredibly talented musicians in one band I suppose it’s hard to not use everything at your disposal when arranging and constructing these songs. But, at some point the original intent of the song -the skeletal frame- gets too much meat on its bones and eventually weighted down by best intentions. Sukierae on recent listens feels like a breezy fall day. There’s a looseness and freedom on the album that comes from having an open mind and open heart. You get the feeling that Jeff Tweedy is having the time of his life writing and recording these songs with his son.
So the songs. The album opens with the jagged and snarky “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood”. It rips and roars out of the gate as if post-punk rose from the shores of the Mississippi and not the grey-painted skies of England. I was pretty surprised when I first heard this song, and especially as it was opening Jeff Tweedy’s first proper solo affair. A breath of angry, fresh air. Soon enough things get groovy with the lackadaisical “High As Hello”. Tweedy sings in a woozy whisper as the strummed acoustic welcomes the listener into the fold. “World Away” is pure groove with some of Jeff’s understated and underappreciated guitar work. It’s particularly reminiscent of the creative six-string work he did on A Ghost Is Born, one of the few records he played nearly all the guitars on. “Diamond Light Pt. 1″ has the spirit of experimental freedom. It’s a sprawling track clocking in at just over 6 minutes and feels like a standalone track in comparison to the rest of the album(they released a clear 10” single of the track with “Pt. 2” on side b.) The absolutely beautiful “Wait For Love” is a waltz-style number that sounds as if 10 acoustics are being plucked and strummed at the same time. Among the guitars is a nylon string guitar that gives the song an almost Spanish feel. Spencer does an amazing job of giving the song a feeling of floating on air; an effortless flow moves throughout. “Low Key” is a classic pop track that Jeff seems to be able to create out of thin air. If he wasn’t driven by such artistic eccentricities, Jeff Tweedy could’ve been one of the premier pop songwriters of my generation(as it stands, he’s one of the premier songwriters of my generation, period.)
From this point the album goes into singer/songwriter mode. The tracks at times become much more sparse and bare. Jeff Tweedy has the innate ability to take simple melodies and chord changes and give them a heft few could. For a guy that can be painfully shy and inward he seems effortless in his playing when it’s just him and an acoustic guitar. Tracks like “Pigeons”, “Flowering”, “Honey Combed”, and “Fake Fur Coat” resemble well worn classics. Nothing needed other than a grizzled, earnest voice and the accompaniment of a faded, beaten acoustic. These tracks are where the pure strength of Tweedy’s songwriting lies. “Where My Love” with it’s piano accompaniment sounds like a lost Nilsson track, and album closer “I’ll Never Know” is pure melancholy and nostalgia. It’s a heartbreaking and simple. It’s a reminiscence of quiet moments spent with someone now gone.
I loved to watch the ghosts
Of cigarette smoke Turning lithe and blue
And I loved the time we spent alone
That you never knew
But at the end it becomes clearer…
My mothers ghost
Of cigarette smoke curling calm and blue
And I love us being alone in the TV glow
When I think you don’t know but you do
While it is Jeff Tweedy singing and playing, and yes the urge to compare his music to past Wilco endeavors is powerful, it would be a lazy comparison. The feeling on this album is far spacier and loose. There’s more of an air of spontaneity here than with Wilco. The lyrics are also more direct and honest. There’s not as much artistic license or vague indifference in the poetry of the language used on Sukierae. This record is personal, like a quiet conversation among old friends. Or even a internal dialogue with someone long gone. Sukierae is truly a special album.
That father/son band may not happen for me, but if it did I can only hope it would be as special as Jeff and Spencer’s record together. That connection is one you don’t find everyday.
Editor’s Note: I suppose the boy and I could try that comic book shop thing. That might work.