Wilco, A.M.

Peter Blackstock

By Peter Blackstock

on 09.23.11 in Reviews

Wilco A.M.

Finding comfort in simple rootsy pleasures

Jay Farrar’s decision to leave Uncle Tupelo in 1994 thrust Jeff Tweedy into a new role, though it helped that the rest of the band chose to stick with him under the rechristened name Wilco. That their debut was a relatively safe and modest affair was understandable; Tweedy was ambitious, yes, but the new band had to learn how to walk before they could run. On the one hand, A.M. is noticeably different from Uncle Tupelo’s records; the loss of Farrar’s writing and vocal presence is keen. But the camaraderie evident among the returning players (plus longtime friend Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets guesting on lead guitar) lends the album an easygoing charm akin to early-’70s SoCal country rock. There are curveballs here and there — a Stonesy kick on “Casino Queen,” quiet reflection on “Dash 7,” a lead vocal and songwriting turn for bassist John Stirratt on “It’s Just That Simple” — but mostly the band keeps an even keel, finding comfort in simple rootsy pleasures. The quirky “Passenger Side” seemed like a throwaway at first but has become a fan favorite over the years, while “I Must Be High” and “Box Full of Letters” provided early snapshots of the melodic pop brilliance that would radiate on the next couple of Wilco records.