All That Glitters is Gold - Wilco - 'Sky Blue Sky'
This is All That Glitters is Gold, a recurring piece about some of my favorite artists, albums, tracks, and live shows. Here I will write about the music I love, most of which inspired me to start Alt Revue in the first place. I'm excited to highlight this music and talk about how it has impacted me. I hope you enjoy getting a glimpse into some of my favorites!
(Photo Credit - Annabel Mehran)
This article has been sitting in my pending pieces for some time. I came up with the idea to cover Sky Blue Sky because it is my favorite album by one of my favorite bands, Wilco. Despite my love for the record, I was having trouble finding the words to say about it. After much reflection, I finally put the album on and said "Fuck it" and dove right in.
One of the reasons Wilco has stuck with me for such a long time is their ability to adapt. What was once a group that leaned harder to alt-country (especially on A.M., Being There, and Mermaid Avenue, their collaboration with Billy Bragg), Wilco has adapted over time to stay ahead of the curve, becoming something totally different. Some would argue this started on their seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album; I would argue it actually started an album earlier on Summerteeth. Regardless of when it started, Wilco has remained one of alt music's most highly respected and innovative acts. With that in mind, let's jump into Sky Blue Sky.
Released in 2007, Sky Blue Sky again represented a departure for the band. The band had achieved critical acclaim with the releases of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. Both of those albums were known for their song's unconventional style. Sky Blue Sky represented a return to more traditional melodies, a move that was intentional by frontman Jeff Tweedy. However, that doesn't mean the album was boring...Far from it. Whereas the melodies on Sky Blue Sky were a little more traditional, the leads were absolutely riveting. I can't tell you how many guitarists I've spoken with that have cited the leads in this album as inspiration. Much of this work was provided by the incomparable Nels Cline. (For the gear heads out there, I've included his fantastic 'Rig Rundown' for Premier Guitar, here).
I know I always say that albums are best listened to in their intended order, but this is so true on Sky Blue Sky. Sky Blue Sky begins with "Either Way", a track with alt-country roots and prominent leads throughout. The keys provide some warmth to the guitar-driven melody. Meanwhile, Tweedy delicately provides his vocals in front of it all. The result is a mellow track that features a great breakout to start off the album. "You Are My Face" provides a similar feeling track to "Either Way". However, on "Impossible Germany", Wilco created one of their most well-known tracks of their career. It's a consistent crowd favorite. With its weaving guitar-focused melody that playfully interacts with its unique leads, "Impossible Germany" is a track that pops out at you not only on this album, but stands out among their entire catalog. "Impossible Germany" also presents the album's most prominent lead guitar display, with a gripping solo that encompasses much of the end of the track.
Wilco turns things down a bit with the title-track, which features jazz-like percussion, an acoustic melody, and smooth guitar solos. Tweedy and company really switch things up musically with "Hate it Here". "Hate it Here" takes a more traditional rock approach to things, but that doesn't mean it's boring. The band really pick things up at the end of the track with fantastic vocal, guitar, and piano work.
On "Walken", Wilco goes a bit alt-country, especially in the leads on the track, which are primarily steel guitar. This track is such a melody driven song, though Tweedy does provide some great vocal work on it. It breaks down into some great jam sessions in parts of the track. It's almost as if the members of Wilco decided to put their foot on the gas on all the rhythms and leads of this one. The ending result is a fun jam that's highly listenable and an especially fun jam track.
Finally, Wilco closes out with "Let's Not Get Carried Away". This one has a foot firmly placed in their A.M., 90's sound, while still staying true to the themes they've created on Sky Blue Sky. It's a banger and a hell of a way to land the damn thing.
That's just a taste of what Sky Blue Sky has to offer. If you've never listened to it, by all means do yourself a favor. If it's been a while, give the album another whirl for nostalgia sake. Though it debuted in 2007, it still has relevance in 2020. Finally, I've included this video of Wilco performing "Impossible Germany" live at Farm Aid for your viewing/list (See below):
Thanks for tuning in and until next time, cheers.