Wilco: Cruel Country review – Jeff Tweedy’s state of the nation address

·1 min read

With the band Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy helped invent a strand of rogue Americana known, unsatisfyingly, as alt country. The group he formed afterwards – Wilco – have spent nearly 30 years expanding away from that brief, combining searching songwriting with restless experimentation.

But the tumult of recent history has sent Wilco back into a room to record live for the first time since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. The result is a double album of self-declared country songs that process the state of the nation and the condition of Tweedy’s insides. It’s a timely return to a genre that knows trouble inside and out.

With notable exceptions – such as the incredible Bird Without a Tail/Base of My Skull – most of these 21 songs skew rootsy and mellow, from the easy pedal steel lope of A Lifetime to Find to the almost 50s feel of Falling Apart (Right Now). Others, like the nearly eight-minute Many Worlds, boast luxuriant instrumental passages as eloquent as Tweedy’s thoughts.

But the most country thing about this body of work is the hard-lived wisdom it offers up. The love songs are very grown-up; insights range from the arresting storytelling on Ambulance through to the cognitive dissonance of the closing tune, The Plains, and the title track: “I love my country, stupid and cruel.”

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