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Wilco - Cruel Country Music Album Reviews

Wilco - Cruel Country Music Album Reviews
On a 21-track double album recorded live in the studio, Wilco embrace a simple, buoyant approach that hearkens back to Jeff Tweedy’s earliest work.

Cruel Country is an album title that cuts two ways, the “country” referring either to a nation or a musical genre. The duality is deliberate, as Wilco are grappling not only with America's tumultuous present but also the band’s fraught legacy with country music. Jeff Tweedy cut his teeth as part of Uncle Tupelo, the pioneering alt-country group that sowed the seeds for the Americana movement early in the 1990s. When he formed Wilco in the wake of Uncle Tupelo’s dissolution, Tweedy bristled when his new band was pigeonholed as “country-rock,” a designation that suited their 1995 debut A.M. Beginning with its sprawling successor Being There, he methodically pushed Wilco into uncharted territory, transforming their image from Americana troubadours into a restless, adventurous rock band.

Wilco’s thirst for experimentation was bound to lead them back to their beginning, which is precisely what happens with Cruel Country. In a letter accompanying the album’s release, Tweedy writes, “In the past, it was always valuable and liberating for us to steer clear of the ‘country’ moniker. It helped us grow and keep our minds open to inspiration from near and far.” But when Wilco reconvened after a pandemic-inspired hiatus, the sextet decided to shelve a collection of art-pop songs they started prior to the onset of COVID-19, and they were drawn instead to simple, direct material that sounded “country” in a way the group hadn’t since their formation.

Tweedy started writing some of the Cruel Country tunes during the sessions for Love Is the King, a 2020 solo album cut during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Where that record had the trademarks of being created in isolation—Tweedy largely worked alone, assisted by his drummer son Spencer and producer Tom Schick—Cruel Country is clearly and proudly the work of a band. All six members of Wilco recorded live in the studio for the first time in over a decade, letting their instruments bleed into each other as the rhythms breathe and sway. The song isn’t necessarily placed at the forefront so much as the group’s collective chemistry: After their prolonged absence, they sound happy, even relieved, to be creating a joyful noise once again.

As buoyant as the interaction fueling the music may be, Cruel Country isn’t a particularly raucous album. The tempos rarely break a sweat, the volume is restrained, and the spirit is hushed. The quiet nature is born of a shared space where every member of Wilco feels at ease. Cruel Country is a communal album, but it’s a small community: a group figuring out a path of deliverance from a bleak time. Tweedy spends a good portion of the album ruminating about a world gone wrong. He admits that, despite the stupidity and cruelty, he loves his country “like a little boy,” pondering the notion that “reality ruins everything,” while realizing that “I’ve been through hell on my way to hell,” a sentiment that conveys how he relies on his gut with his social commentary.

Darkness looms on the fringes of Cruel Country, yet the band’s warmth keeps the album from wallowing in gloom even when the proceedings are slow and quiet, which they often are. Wilco don’t traffic in the grit of honky tonk or the glitz of Nashville. They favor plaintive, rustic ballads, taking the occasional detour to savor the electrified twang of Bakersfield country, the hippest country sound of the mid-20th century. That propulsive train-track rhythm and chicken-picking is all over “Falling Apart (Right Now),” one of only a handful of songs where guitarist Nels Cline steps to the forefront to shred. Cline’s recessive role on Cruel Country highlights how each song feels as if the band is drawing a collective breath. Occasionally, Wilco conjures a sense of majesty that feels like a rustic spin of their full-flight experimentations: “Many Worlds” gains cruising altitude halfway through its eight minutes, while the mini-suite “Bird Without a Tail / Base of My Skull” hums at hypnotizing low thrum, cascading to a jangling crescent before washing away again. Such consciously country cuts “Tired of Taking It Out on You” and “A Lifetime to Find,” provide a pulse and a bit of a backbone to Cruel Country, anchoring an album that otherwise amiably meanders through the weeds, taking time to explore every twist and turn.

Often the spare arrangements hearken back not just to the quietest moments on early Wilco records but to the stark settings of Anodyne, the last album by Uncle Tupelo, providing supporting evidence to Tweedy’s claim that he wrote these folk and country songs as a “comfort food to really just focus my writing within these narrow limitations.” Certainly, Cruel Country offers its share of comfort: Its unhurried nature is a big part of the reason it feels so warm and inviting, especially as it strolls at its own pace, divorced from the digitized rush of modern life. Occasionally, it can feel like an overindulgence of comfort food. There may be a gentle current flowing through its 21 songs, but the sheer abundance can also feel overwhelming. As lovely as they often are, the songs seem to drift and float, and Cruel Country plays less like a sculpted double album than a vividly detailed snapshot of a particular moment in time.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Wilco - Cruel Country Music Album Reviews Wilco - Cruel Country Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, June 04, 2022 Rating: 5

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