JEFF TWEEDY has increasingly turned his songwriting gaze inward as he gets further away from the raucous, punky, alt-country years of UNCLE TUPELO and more ensconced in the arty Americana of WILCO. Because of the inwardness, his newest solo album LOVE IS THE KING, out NOW on clear vinyl LP and CD, feels especially adaptable to our current isolation. (Buy it HERE)
Yet while Love Is the King was laid down in April 2020, after a Wilco tour was indefinitely postponed for obvious reasons, it’s not really about the current isolation. Instead, and like many later Wilco releases, it’s about sense impressions, small moments extended toward the temporal horizon, and emotions struggling to be fully felt.
It is simpler than Wilco, with Tweedy enlisting only his sons, Spencer and Sammy, to accompany him with, respectively, drums and harmony for acoustic, electric and bass guitars, and for his familiarly folky voice, which hasn’t been duded up by years of Chicago living. Nor has Chicago kept him from stepping back into his cowboy boots, as he does on “Opaline,” which provides Bakersfield twang, albeit modified by a Tweedy guitar solo that can’t decide whether to shake the dust from honky-tonk rafters or crawl backstage for a nap.
Other solos range from the briskly Beatlesque reinforcement of the melody on “George Saunders—A Robin or a Wren” to the deliberately desultory squalling near the end of the opening, title track, and become a sub-theme of the songs. Tweedy’s lyrics establish another sub-theme of holding onto love until it is simply impossible not to let go: “Between you and me, I’m relieved they put you away,” he tells “Gwendolyn” over 1970s-inspired folk rock.
Otherwise, he’s trying to maintain a grip, longing for home just above the rollin’ blues of “Bad Day Lately,” rhapsodizing hoarsely about his wife within the subdued playing of “Even I Can See,” or pleading “You’re all I need” as “Half Asleep” lets Love Is the King drift to a close. Like the rest of us, he’s never so alone as he sounds.
For a man that has surrounded himself with some of the best players out there, Tweedy gives maestro Nels Cline a run for his money in several spots here. The tangled solos that emerge from “Gwendolyn” provide an element of discord to the mid-tempo song and recall the noisier moments of Sky Blue Sky. Son Spencer emerges as an accomplished drummer as well—whether providing a sympathetic thump on the smoldering “Bad Day Lately” or slapping away more earnestly on the Neil Young flavored “Guess Again.”
Though recorded under lockdown, the songs may be maudlin in spots but don’t directly address the situation at hand. Primarily Love Is the King has the air of what it in fact is: a man comfortable in his own skin recording a set of songs with his talented kids.
There is a wistfulness to living more than half your life to get to the point of feeling you have your shit together and, as parents, having brought infants forward to adults. Tweedy puts an exclamation point to that moment of balance in the closer “Half-Asleep.” He concedes “half of me believes we will never die,” as a testimony to finding a muse in that welcome spot.
We have all been amply rewarded by Tweedy’s increased productivity and transparency over the past few years. He could be as in awe of his own proliferation as we all are, but regardless, the cornucopia that began its curve two autumns ago has delivered an abundance of gifts. It’s a lot to be blessed with.
“Love Is The King” will be in-stock at Horizon Records on Friday, Jan. 15th on clear vinyl LP and CD. Or you can preorder it in our webstore HERE. And check out these other Tweedy & Wilco gems, as well!