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Notes from My Listening Room #9
By Josh Bizar

A Proud 4th Generation Chicagoan
I've been at home working for the past two weeks. Along with so many Americans, I am beginning to adapt. Armed with a small laptop on a stool, I do what I can. Who knew I could miss something as utilitarian as a desktop computer with dual monitors? Plus, I'm really starting to miss seeing my coworkers' faces every day.

Here in Chicago, which branches out into dozens of suburbs, we are doing everything we can to help flatten the curve and reduce the number of transmissions. Approximately 10 million people live and work in the greater Chicagoland area. This is my city. I've lived here all my life, and I consider it to be one of the greatest places in the world. We are Midwesterners: strong, resilient, determined. When life starts to settle into a "new normal," I look forward to enjoying all the attributes that make this town feel so special. I know the people of this city, and all over the country, will become stronger because of this.

Chicago's connection to music is long and storied, and those ties will be strengthened, as well. The livelihoods of many artists, both local and from afar, depend on it. Here's hoping I run into you at a show in the not-too-distant future.

Today's Pick: Wilco Sky Blue Sky
"Maybe the sun will shine today/The clouds will blow away/Maybe I won't feel so afraid..."

Chicago is home to an incredible art scene that fosters all types of creative endeavors. For more than 20 years, the bond between the city and Wilco has been extremely solid. Wilco and Chicago's love affair is well documented. The iconic cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—featuring the Marina City towers—represents the kinship between the band and the locale.

I have known many diehard Wilco fans, some of whom work at Music Direct. As many of you know, I'm a bit behind the times, musically speaking, so I was late to the Wilco party. Upon release in 2007, Sky Blue Sky caused controversy in my office and throughout the American music scene. But it was also the LP that really grabbed my attention and made me a big Wilco fan. I don't want to stir the pot or debate the merits of Wilco's rich catalog. I'll leave that to the critics and "real" Wilco fans to argue. I just want to write about why I love this great album.

Sky Blue Sky constituted a sonic departure for the band, which had recently welcomed the technical, creative, and textural guitar of Nels Cline—an instrumentalist who contributes a special element to the sound of the record (and every one after). And that says nothing of Wilco's remarkable rhythm section, comprised of John Stirratt's melodic bass lines and Glenn Kotche's inventive drumming. But it was the introduction of the unique tonality, distortions, and interplay of Cline's guitar that provides the crowning touch on Sky Blue Sky. I've never heard a guitarist like him.

The songs and arrangements make Sky Blue Sky infinitely appealing. Tweedy is a gifted songwriter, and these songs are both personal and relatable. I also love the complexity of the arrangements, which combine with Tweedy's trademark phrasing. Read along with the lyric sheet inside found inside the LP jacket and you'll appreciate his approach to singing. My favorite tracks include "Impossible Germany," "Side with the Seeds," and "Please Be Patient with Me." And on "Hate It Here," a tune I find to be Beatle-esque (along with "Walken"), Tweedy and co. pen a simple, vivid picture of heartache. The crunchy guitars and the longing in his voice further flesh out the feeling of lost love. No matter where you land on the Wilco spectrum, there is much to absorb on Sky Blue Sky.

Nonesuch's 2LP set was mastered by Bob Ludwig, cut at half speed by the great Stan Ricker, and plated and pressed at RTI in Camarillo, California. It sounds incredible, with every instrument given its own space in the mix. Tweedy's voice remains front and center, floating between my loudspeakers like a warm embrace, and there's fabulous interplay between he and Cline's guitars. The LP is still in print, and I give it my wholehearted recommendation. It's just the type of album that delivers on the promise of relaxing your mind. Maybe the sun will shine tomorrow...

March 31, 2020

Comments (1)

Wilco
I have been a Wilco fan from the beginning, and you are right on Sky Blue Sky. It is hands down their most complete, and best s as album. The real fans know what’s up.
3/31/2020 11:49 PM
Frank Shipman
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