Wilco – A.M.

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

This is another band that I just don’t love in the same way that a lot of people do. The debut is really good and Summerteeth is wonderful, but I thought they started to get a little pretentious after that and then lost the thread completely on A Ghost Is Born; I never went back. I’m willing to try again, but not terribly motivated to do so either.

What I Think of This Album

Jeff Tweedy managed to take all of Uncle Tupelo with him after that band’s nasty split (with the notable exception of Jay Farrar – obviously – otherwise there wouldn’t have been a split). What he also took with him was the sound and style, again, minus Farrar’s contributions. A.M. was released less than a year after that band’s demise, and it sort of feels like a rush job. If Tweedy lacked the confidence or motivation or ability (or maybe just time) to broaden his horizons – all of which he showed ample evidence of later in Wilco’s career – that’s fine by me. This is a thoroughly enjoyable country-rock album, even if not all of it is up to par with Tweedy’s best work in Tupelo.

The opening drum hits of “I Must Be High” remind me of “Like a Rolling Stone,” which may be sacrilegious, but so be it. Supposedly Tweedy was smoking a LOT of weed during this time; regardless it’s an appealingly shaggy song with a nice stinging lead by Bottle Rocket Brian Henneman. My only real problem with “Casino Queen” is that some of the rhymes are silly and I don’t buy Tweedy as a gambler, but it’s fun, with a cool violin part by multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston and some nice wood block work. “Box Full of Letters” is an excellent break-up song – the first thing on this album that approaches artistry. Similarly, “Shouldn’t Be Ashamed” is first-rate, bursting at the seams with frustration (“You should live how you want / Stay with me / We should stay apart / Just shouldn’t / Ever have to be this hard”), and offering a great lead from Henneman. The chorus of “Pick Up the Change” is a winner, but the verses suffer in comparison; more fine Henneman guitar work here.

Callowness permeates “I Thought I Held You” and the banjo sounds forced. There is a pronounced bluegrass element to “That’s Not the Issue,” but it sounds way less contrived. Bassist John Stirratt contributed ballad “It’s Just That Simple,” and it’s just okay; Stirratt has a particularly thin voice. “Should’ve Been In Love” gets things back on track – this is a strong tune –  with some phased guitar (?) at the end. I love the laconic “Passenger Side” – it’s breezy and light, and the quick drum fill right before “Can you take me to the store / And then the bank?” is one of my favorite things on this album – but it is admittedly insubstantial. Still, Tupelo was so dour and uncompromising that it’s nice to hear Tweedy having fun.

“Dash 7” is a bit too somber for me, but it’s not a bad song. It’s probably for the best that “Blue Eyed Soul” isn’t, but it’s also not much of anything else either, and sequenced after similarly plodding “Dash 7,” it’s not an easy listen, though if you stick with it, you’ll hear some great work from Henneman. The band ends the album on a high note with chunky country rocker “Too Far Apart,” on which – surprise, surprise – Henneman excels again.

Tangent: Johnston is the younger brother of Michelle Shocked, and guest pedal steel player Lloyd Maines is the father of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.

The Best Thing About This Album

Um, obviously Brian Henneman’s guitar playing.

Release Date

March, 1995

The Cover Art

This works for me. It’s plain and direct but still a little artsy, and it obviously relates (if loosely) to the music.

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