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Friday, April 12, 2024

Take a break from the splendor of 'YHF' with these other Wilco-related albums













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It's a good time to be a Wilco fan, as I have unabashedly been since I first heard Jeff Tweedy singing \Acuff Rose"" on one of an old track coach's mix tapes. There's something about Tweedy's lovely splintered voice that seems to win him fans effortlessly'I've met only a couple of people who haven't been drawn to his obvious talent and vulnerable charm. Know some people like that? Send them to me'I'd like to give them a slap about the ears and a copy of Being There to listen to.  




The release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is reason enough for diehards like me to dig out the Sennheissers, but yesterday marked the release of two other Wilco-related albums: the soundtrack of ""Chelsea Walls,"" an Ethan Hawk-directed film about some goings-on in New York's famed Hotel Chelsea, and ex-Wilcoan Jay Bennett's collaboration with Edward Burch, The Palace at 4 a.m. (Part I).  




Despite a cast including Steve Zahn, Kris Kristofferson and Uma Thurman, Chelsea Walls is awfully indie, and I doubt if it will make it to Madison theaters any time soon. Tweedy composed and performed the score of the film with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, which makes up the better part of the soundtrack disc. For lack of a better comparison, the wholly-instrumental arrangements sound like the endings to YHF songs that producer Jim O'Rourke trimmed: spacious, reverberating and evocative, but without vocals and often surpassing the five-minute mark, they fail to hold their own. ""End Credits"" comes the closest to being a real song, with a defined, repeated riff instead of sonic experimentation, and it's actually quite lovely. There's no denying, though, that it would be a lot better with some words'any words'and if Tweedy was still too exhausted from YHF, I have a feeling it would have suited Neal Halstead nicely. I realize it's a movie score, but I bought it as a CD just like any other, and it's a little disappointing. 




In addition to the score, Chelsea Walls also contains two Wilco b-sides: ""When The Roses Bloom Again,"" an outtake from the Mermaid Avenue sessions, and ""Promising,"" an acoustic mid-'90s rarity. Both are beautiful songs, and maybe worth the $12 themselves if you can't find them elsewhere, but there's still a lot to slog through on this soundtrack, including a completely unnecessary cover of Wilco's ""The Lonely 1"" by Zahn and actor Robert Sean Leonard. 




The Palace at 4 a.m. is a greater success by far, and just the thing for them that miss the folksier days of Wilco. Bennett, of course, was the skilled keyboard player whose fingerprints are all over Summerteeth's best songs. Sadly, he left Wilco after the completion of YHF, but here's proof that it might be for the best. Together, Bennett and Burch sound like Gordon Lightfoot and Blood and Chocolate-era Elvis Costello, energetically running through 15 varied, catchy and intelligent songs about difficult women and lost love. There's some familiar ground here: ""Shakin' Sugar"" reprises the organ-driven sound of the Mermaid Avenue albums and ""Drinking on Your Dime"" sounds a lot like ""ELT,"" which isn't a bad thing, but both of those songs are overshadowed by the melding of '80s chorus effects and slide guitar on ""Talk To Me,"" which practically begs for a guest vocal from Chrissie Hynde.  




""Like a Photograph"" accurately captures the title's pre-sunrise vibe: Backed by a shuffled drum beat, Bennett croons through dozens of backhanded compliments like ""You're like a photograph/ You never quite tell the truth"" and ""We've got one thing in common: we both love you."" Like the rest of the album, it never comes off as smarmy or affected. The Palace has a very classic air to it'pleasant on the first listen and very good by the fourth'it's an album with staying power, and the perfect antidote for the claustrophobic melancholy of YHF. Vary your listening diet; you'll be a better person for it.

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