Wilco Bring It Back Home With The Hush Twang Of ‘Cruel Country’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Over the past twenty-eight years that Wilco has been recording, the band has released eleven albums with many side projects in the interim. Each album has had its own unique soundscape, with the band having offered up alt-country albums like A.M. and Being There, the pop-rock of Summerteeth, the 70’s roots rocker Sky Blue Sky, the noise-rock of A Ghost is Born and Star Wars, and the folk-rock of Schmilco and Ode to Joy. For their next outing, Wilco has gone full circle back to the alt-country sounds that Wilco started wth on A.M. Cruel Country is Wilco’s first double album since 1996’s Being There and includes 21 tracks spanning over two hours.

The recording process for Cruel Country was a collaborative effort with the entire band meeting up at “The Loft” and recording the songs in live takes. This is completely different than the recording process for 2019’s Ode To Joy in which Tweedy and drummer Glenn Kotche wrote the songs and Wilco members came in individually to record their parts.

Cruel Country kicks off with “I Am My Mother” which immediately gives the listener a dose of folk sprinkled country with a steel guitar gliding over the rhythmic strumming of an acoustic guitar as Tweedy sings ‘I am a new man/ but I am still my mother.’ The titular track follows with clip-clopping percussion backing a slide and acoustic guitar-driven song while Tweedy croons Dylanesque lyrics ‘I love my country, stupid and cruel/Red, white and blue’. “

“Tired of Taking it Out on You” is one of the stand-out tracks as it manages to sound like Wilco of any era. “Falling Apart (Right Now)” is one of the most upbeat songs on the album and sounds like classic Texas country and wouldn’t seem out of place on a Willie Nelson or Guy Clark album. The two-part song “Bird Without a Tail – Base of My Skull” gives off Grateful Dead improv rock vibes as it will likely be a fan favorite at live shows. “The Universe “ and “Many Worlds” are companion songs as they both have a similar sonic palette and finds Tweedy musing about his place in the wide universe.

Cruel Country has a lot to offer musically and lyrically over its twenty-one tracks. However, fans might be disappointed to find that it has a conspicuous lack of upbeat rockers and Nels Cline guitar solos. It does a great job though of offering up different dynamics throughout so that it never feels stale. Though Wilco evolved beyond their alt-country roots almost twenty years ago, Cruel Country just seems like a very appropriate album for Wilco to release. 

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