Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Jeff Tweedy’s “WARM” shows sophistication in simplicity

“WARM," like so few other records, is so comfortable with its sound and its messages that it truly sets the listener at ease. In his first original solo release, Jeff Tweedy of indie rock band Wilco puts forth a sad, yet compassionate album. 

Comfort is found in the album's maturity. The music maintains the hybrid of Americana, indie and alt-country that has characterized Tweedy’s work throughout his career, but it doesn’t show off. 

These aren’t the rollicking alt-country melodies of Uncle Tupelo, nor are they another of Wilco’s stylistic experiments. These songs subtly borrow the most inviting elements of Tweedy’s discography and use them to build a soundscape that’s somehow both novel and familiar to the singer’s fans.

The instrumentation is solid and confident enough to know when it should step back, allowing Tweedy’s rich voice and genuine, modest lyricism to shine in the sonic landscape. A testament to Tweedy’s musical sophistication and the album’s mature sound, the emotional weight of the lyrics and vocals don’t compete with the instrumentation. Instead, the two weave together, adding nuanced layers of sound, rhythm and feeling, without going overboard.

What “WARM” lacks in extremity, it makes up for in sophistication. The beauty on this record is its understatement. It feels exactly what it feels, with no melodrama. 

It looks at fear without being afraid and at pain without turmoil. It gives us permission to observe sadness and anger while staying gentle. Tweedy looks his feelings straight in the face, and the result is beautiful in its matter-of-factness. 

This album feels lived in, as though Tweedy didn’t build a world, exactly, but opened a door into one that already exists, that we might see it more clearly. It’s an intimate, fireside, hot cider kind of album, full of the same kind of unconscious admissions that friends share on quiet nights. Nothing here feels inorganic. It seems that Tweedy is acting as less of a performer and more of a friend — sharing, feeling and making music. 

This is fortunate, not only because it brings the listener in close to the emotional core of these songs, but because it allows room for lyrics that might otherwise feel melodramatic or pretentious. Because of the simple, personable feeling of the record, Tweedy manages lyrics that confront uncertainty and personal failures and triumphs — faith and loss thereof, inaction in the face of tragedy, love and its hardships — with rare grace and simplicity.

So if you’re looking for a grand album full of shocking musical experimentation or stark lyrical declarations, you will be disappointed by Tweedy’s first solo record. It isn’t built for show business, to manufacture intimacy or to parade hardship draped in grandeur like so much of the music indie listeners love. No, this is an album that accomplishes exactly what it set out to. It is a quiet celebration of small things. 

“WARM” cares about things in plain, grown-up terms. It is not an album of happy endings, but one that fully embraces human sadness, failures and complications, and is richer for it. With its complex modesty, it meets us in the depths of our fears with great camaraderie, understanding and generosity. Like a good friend, it’s a record that sends its best regards and kindest advice, warmly. 

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