I’ve never seen Wilco so, unlike the other items on this blog, I don’t have any stories of live experiences or funny anecdotes. Unlike most bands, Wilco were not obvious, in fact Wilco crept up on me when I wasn’t looking and sat next to me waiting to be noticed. Once I had noticed them and listened to more and more albums, many of the bands I had, by heart, sited as major players in my best of list all shifted down a place.
I first came across Wilco when I bought Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco. A collection of unrecorded songs written by Woody Guthrie.
Extracts from billybragg.co.uk
Woody Guthrie was the dean of American folk artists, the author of such classics as This Land is Your Land, Pastures of Plenty, Deportees, I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Any More and Rueben James. His giant influence on the entire course of American popular music, not least Bob Dylan’s acknowledgement of his debt to Guthrie, made him one of the seminal artists of the 20th Century. At the time of his death, in 1967, however, Guthrie left behind some 2500 unfinished songs, the lyrics to which were belatedly discovered many years later in the archives.
Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, first became aware of Billy Bragg in 1992, when he performed at New York City’s Summerstage birthday celebration for Woody. “Although he had come out of a punk rock background, he could sing along with the country and western singers, the folkies and just about everyone else who appeared in the show,” says Nora Guthrie.
Nora Guthrie decided that Bragg was the perfect candidate to set new music to the unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics. There was no record of any music being written, thus Bragg was given the task of ‘reinventing’ original Woody Guthrie songs. The lyrics – about New York City streets, film star idols, drinking, loving, dying and even spaceships - were specifically chosen because they presented a completely different aspect to Woody Guthrie’s public persona. Bragg’s role was to provide the musical platform for a previously ‘unexplored’ Guthrie.
The result was Mermaid Avenue, released in 1998. Bragg’s collaborators on the project were American alt-country rockers, Wilco. Recordings began in Wilco’s hometown of Chicago and then in Dublin, where English fiddler Eliza Carthy and bluesman Corey Harris made their contributions. Natalie Merchant also added her talents when Bragg was finishing the recordings in Boston.
I bought this album on the back of being a huge Billy Bragg fan. Initially I would concentrate on the Billy tracks, not taking much notice of Wilco. Overtime I found the Wilco tracks more interesting, soulful and beautiful. For me Jeff Tweedy has the ultimate American singing voice.
Moving on from Mermaid Avenue I bought Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and then A Ghost Is Born, both classic albums. After these, of course, the whole back catalogue! I really can’t help myself!
Blue Sky Blue was one of the first albums I had ever downloaded but for some reason I lost it. Six months after downloading it I found it hidden in some obsolete folder on my PC and uploaded to my ipod. This album was well worth the wait, a total departure from anything they had done before, this was more soft country ballads, more delicate, ‘Either Way’, ‘Sky Blue Sky’, ‘Please Be Patient With Me’. Of course there is always room for the familiar Wilco sound with the very good ‘Impossible Germany’ and ‘Side With The Seeds’ which has elements of one of my other great musical loves, ‘Pavement’.
As I type this I am listening to the new album, ‘Wilco The Album’, not so sure it’s going to replace this one just yet!!!
Please Be Patient With Me
Sky Blue Sky