Wilco (The Album) echoed, but didn’t quite live up to Sky Blue Sky

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I thought Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky was one of the two or three best rock albums of 2007, and other critics obviously agreed as it ended up on many a year-end list. The band seemed to have found a formidable formula, settling into an early-’70s rock vibe, as well as bringing on board a guitarist who provided the band with a enviable one-two punch: the combination of Jeff Tweedy’s tight melodies/beautifully nuanced vocals with the Rottweiler guitar of Nels Cline.

Wilco has had a history of evolving, so Wilco (The Album) arrived on June 30, 2009 at a fork in the road: Would they keep moving forward or stick with the winning formula they stumbled upon on Sky Blue Sky? The answer seemed to be the latter. As a sequel-type of record, Wilco (The Album) provided diminishing returns, but only slightly. That is to say, it’s still quite good, and there are plenty of songs that demanded the repeat button.

“Wilco (The Song)” was a succinct, three-minute indie rock cruncher. “Bull Black Nova,” which felt like a fan favorite from the start, rang with an urgent repeating note and climaxes with a sick, whacked solo by Cline at the end. You will not that kind of guitar playing on any other rock band, as Cline is an original. If you have been reading this space long enough, you already know that, naturally.

“Country Disappeared” stood in direct contrast to “Bull Black Nova,” a sublime, piano-based breezy melody that leveraged Tweedy’s country roots without really being country. Two songs, “You And I” and “You Never Know,” arrived one right after another, and interestingly quoted George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” in different spots.

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