Jeff Tweedy - Warm - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Jeff Tweedy - Warm

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2018-11-30
Jeff Tweedy - Warm
Jeff Tweedy - Warm

Ostensibly this is a review of Jeff Tweedy’s new album, Warm, but mainly it’s not.  I’ve had a stream of the album for about a month now, but have only listened to snippets of it in that time.  That has nothing to do with Jeff Tweedy or the quality of the music, but all to do with me being indignant.  Streams of albums are difficult to work with compared to a download.  To listen to a promo stream you basically have to be on WiFi and listen to each track individually.  I much prefer to listen to music in my car, so a download that you can put on your phone allows you to do this.  In addition to not having a download and bugging my editor about it too many times, I also didn’t have a press release, credits, or a copy of the lyrics.  The one thing I did have was a pretty long lead time to review it so I let it go for a while.

Of course, life is a funny thing and all things happen for a reason, so a few days before Thanksgiving an Amazon package was at my door when I got home from work.  Unlike most of our Amazon packages, it was clear this one contained a book.  My wife said it was a gift from my son for me, but that I wasn’t to open it until he got home from college for the holiday.  I, realizing that my son knows what makes me tick, guessed it was Tweedy’s autobiography Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back).  Within minutes of my son’s arrival a few days later he presented me with the book I had correctly assumed it was (we are expert at ruining surprise gifts in my family).  A very unselfish gesture on the part of my son, which led me to spend most of Thanksgiving morning buried in reading it versus catching up with the family.  I did stop short of bringing it to the dinner table though and was forced to finish the book the next day.  

In reading Let’s Go there were two clear things that Tweedy and I have in common.  Turns out I am two years older than he is, but we both grew up inveterate music collectors in our teens and hung out a lot in record stores.  My record collection today is down to two full moving boxes, as not having much money and an insatiable appetite for new music and genres I was constantly trading in six albums for four; four for two; and two for one.  That’s a lesson in diminishing returns if there ever was one and if you didn’t like the last album it was too bad and also why I have a few Mental As Anything albums in my collection.  My album collection is also pretty small because with the advent of cassettes and mainly CD’s, I switched media because I could play them in my car.  Unlike Elvis Presley, I didn’t have a record player in my Dodge Charger.

The other thing that Jeff Tweedy and I definitely have in common, is that neither of us ever saw Uncle Tupelo from the audience.  But to paraphrase Patterson Hood, I may not have seen the Minutemen or Uncle Tupelo, but I sure saw firehose and I sure saw Wilco more than a few times (the first being at the old 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.).  Ironically, Tweedy talks in the book about opening for Johnny Cash, and my wife and I managed to somehow get tickets to see Johny and June shortly before they passed at the new 9:30 Club.  Life, as I mentioned, is a funny thing full of odd coincidences and encounters.  I highly recommend Tweedy’s book for his honest opening up on his past, his descriptions of connection to family, and a look into his musical process.  

The album itself is a spare one, but one with Tweedy’s wavery timestamp and a steel guitar country accent that in a way brings things full circle back to A.M., albeit at a slower pace.  Tweedy also reveals a lot of himself on Warm, some of it only becoming obvious after reading the book.  In places there is an abject loneliness to it which not surprisingly comes on one of its most sprightly sounding tracks.  ‘I Know What It’s Like’ describes a life away on the road “far away from the fireworks display” staring at himself in a glass reflection.  Not that you want to go around the house singing “I know what it’s like to not feel love”, but this song will make you do that.  The other upbeat sounding song, ‘Let’s Go Rain’ is a childlike Woody Guthrie sing-a-long that has Tweedy imagining the next wash out, but one in which the first thing saved are his guitars.  I guess he didn’t get the memo that it’s gonna be fire next time.

Other parts of Warm roll themselves out patiently with sparse accompaniment and revealed treasures.  The opening ‘Bombs Above’ sounds like a country cousin to Sky Blue Sky, and speaks to his father’s memory and his own legacy of leaving behind a “trail of songs”.  The jauntiness of ‘Some Birds’ gives way to another steel guitar flavored gem in ‘Don’t Forget’ where Tweedy’s morbid admission “we all think about dying” gives way to stair-stepped chords leading to the tongue in cheek “don’t let it kill ya.”  This song also has a couplet about racing his youngest son Sam back to his own father’s bedside that made for the most heart-rending section of the book.  

The glitches, cricket chirps, and missed beats of ‘How Hard It Is For a Desert to Die’ make its five minutes running time something to cherish.  And a trademark obtusely titled ‘Having Been Is No Way To Be’ takes a while to unravel, but ends up in its final verse having an optimistic silver lining and being one of the best songs of the album.  Tweedy sings of “dead trees”, but ones where the “roots have leaves”.  Where for trials and tribulations what is most clear is that music buoyed him through to a place where the involuntary act of waking up each morning is something worth singing about.                        

So it turns out I didn’t need a download, notes, or a lyric sheet to review Warm.  What I needed to do was read a 300 page book my son gave me, and you should read it too.  Tweedy has literally spent his life steeped in music but also in just living life as we all do.  If you want to contemplate what the title Warm refers to, my take on it is that warm = content.  Tweedy got himself to a place where he is good with what he got.  And his arms in the air on the cover?  To celebrate a well-deserved victory lap for a race not over, but one in which he knows he already won.  I’m thankful I had the opportunity to wrestle with a stream of Warm over Thanksgiving and read Let’s Go in a roomful of family watching football games, but most of all I’m thankful that my son, Will, gave me a book.


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