Inside Jeff Tweedy’s excellent new solo LP
Artist: Jeff Tweedy
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
Jeff Tweedy’s mastery is unquestionable at this point in his four-decade career in music.
The Wilco bandleader’s second non-band project in the last few years — and the 18th record Tweedy has either created or, at the very least, taken a principal part in producing — Warm is without a doubt the most intimate and autobiographical offering of Tweedy’s career, and that’s saying something. Warm is just that: open, inviting, an introspective look at Tweedy and the world around him that he offers to share with listeners.
“All my life I’ve played a part in the bombs above the ones you love / Taking a moment to apologize / I should’ve done more to stop the war,” Tweedy sings in “Bombs Above,” the acoustic-driven opening track. “I leave behind a trail of songs from the darkest gloom to the brightest sun / I lost my way but it’s hard to say what I’ve been through should matter to you.”
Stepping back into an easy singer-songwriter approach, Tweedy not only displays an innate expertise of language and melody but an ability to alchemize a few words and chords into something that dives deep below the surface of the listener’s inner self. Blending country-roots texture with the philosophical approach of a man who has felt experienced his fair share of difficulty, the joy and pain woven throughout this record feels entirely effortless. There’s no fight in the delivery, only acceptance of his life and mortality. “I don’t regret sometimes / We all, we all think about dying / Oh, don’t let it kill you,” he remarks in “Don’t Forget,” while shooting down the trope of the tortured artist he’s been tagged with for almost two decades.
But he’s no self-obsessed musician, either. Well aware of injustice on a global scale — and questioning his own right to express struggle and pain in the lights of it — Tweedy sings introspective songs about personal suffering while apologizing for his inability to bring an end to the violence in the same breath. In his memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), Tweedy writes about the moment a stranger gave him permission to feel his own pain. “Mine ain’t about yours,” the man, a recovering alcoholic in rehabilitation with Tweedy after his struggle with opioid addiction, told him. “And yours ain’t about mine. We all suffer the same. You don’t get to decide what hurts you. You just hurt.”
“Suffering is the same for everyone / He was right, but I was wrong to agree.”
“After many years of asking myself what art is for, I’ve arrived at this: the role of the artist is to reach across space and time and console — to offer not a cure or a prescription, but, rather, non-trivial consolation,” George Saunders wrote in the liner notes for Warm. “Jeff is our great, wry American poet.”
Comprised of songs he played during a run of solo acoustic shows in 2016 and 2017 that had the deepest impact on fans, Warm is just that: consolation. It’s an arm around you on the worst day, a shoulder to lean on when there doesn’t seem to be any chance of getting out of the mess you’re in, and a helping hand to clean it up. “What can a song do in this world? It can open a person right up. It can jolt you out of some bullshit state of mind, of sloth, of hubris. It can make that dead world out there suddenly come alive. Warm is one of the most joyful, celebratory, infectious collections of songs I’ve ever heard in a long time,” Saunders goes onto to say.
Warm is joyful, in spite of the great loss Tweedy experienced in 2017: the death of his father. Tweedy described his passing as “the death that most people would sign up for,” surrounded by his family, by love, and by singing. The contradiction of the moment — the loss of a loved one, but the serenity and grace permeating the loss — makes its appearance in the subtle tensions of the record: it’s tender but pointed, introspective but universal, understanding but skeptical. There’s an edge to it, but it’s softened by the intimacy Tweedy offers to listeners.
Without ever raising his voice, leaning on lyrical tropes, or setting aside his 1930s Martin 0-18, Tweedy is set to go down with the likes of Jason Isbell and Ryan Adams as one of the greatest songwriters of our time. He makes it seems so simple; he’s just telling his story and sharing his pain, yet he does it with an openness that can’t be learned. He simply recognizes the pain in the world, and just like the stranger, gives listeners permission to feel it. But even more than that, he offers consolation, packaged in an eleven-song record.
Warm, and Jeff’s first memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), are available for purchase now. Click here for more information.