Together At Last
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The adage that says a great song can be reduced to just acoustic guitar and vocal and still enthrall listeners is put to an interesting test by Jeff Tweedy on his new solo record. Together At Last finds Tweedy stripping down Wilco songs and tracks from side projects to their bare essentials.
Unplugged albums are nothing new, but Tweedy’s reimagining of this material is particularly notable because of how Wilco is known for complicating arrangements to bend and twist their songs into fantastical territory. The songwriting, however, has always been the bedrock, and this album makes a good case for Tweedy as an effective busker.
Song choice is everything with a project like this, and Tweedy is wise to generally stray from obvious selections. “Laminated Cat,” originally a Doors-y percussive jam from the one-off project Loose Fur, is reclaimed here as a lament about the unstoppable passage of time and “lovers leaving.” He also wrings the intimacy out of “Muzzle Of Bees,” a track from A Ghost Is Born that seemed almost impenetrably enigmatic in its original version.
Sometimes the transformations don’t quite click. Improving upon the glorious studio weirdness of “I’m Trying To Break Your Heart” is a no-go, and the jaunty “Hummingbird” worked better with the vaudevillian piano touches of the version found on A Ghost Is Born. But the songs from Summerteeth really suit this format: “Via Chicago” is somehow both harrowing and romantic all at once; “I’m Always In Love” thrives via a simple yet grabby acoustic guitar riff; and “In A Future Age” is the highlight of the disc, its gorgeous ponderings really showcased by Tweedy’s tender reading.
Tweedy is promising more of these acoustic exhumations of his formidable catalog in the future. Based upon the evidence provided by Together At Last, that’s a development that both Wilco fans and fans of great songwriting in general should welcome.