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Wilco: a ghost is born

Doug Collette By

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It's a bit of a stretch, perhaps, to consider Wilco a jazz band. But if you consider the stylistics leaps Jeff Tweedy & Co. have made since their earliest albums ( Being There , Summerteeth ) and the collective creative process that gave birth to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and now, this new album, perhaps the label fits.

Simpler and more immediate than YHF (contemporary folk songs cloaked in ambient sounds), ghost is the sound of inspiration caught as it happens-ever so nimbly by Jim O' Rourke, who worked with the band on a previous project. "At Least That's What You Said" finds Tweedy shaping the melody and words, then further sculpting them with staccato electric guitar. The whole band tunes in to the author's wavelength on "Hell Is Chrome," and the track captures the palpable sensation of that process in motion. Throughout the album, there is much switching of instruments on the part of new Wilco recruits Mikael Jorgenson as well as Glen Kotche, Leroy Bach and John Stirratt, as well as O'Rourke, who besides co-producer, acts as Jeff's liaison to the band in formulating arrangements.

a ghost is born is full of moments where you can hear Wilco creating music on the spot and nailing a definitive arrangement. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," for instance, grows slowly and progressively more intricately, like the work of its title subject, through tentative early sections, until the performance blooms into full kick-ass rock and roll, echoing the way Wilco works on stage. "Muzzle of Bees," in contrast, is picturesque, gentle and charming throughout, with the same child-like manner that informs "Wishful Thinking," where the repetition of images allows them to sink in almost imperceptibly. On the other hand, the instrumentation itself of "Handshake Drugs" depicts what Tweedy cannot verbalize.

Tracks on ghost often end abruptly, somewhat akin to the sensation of snapping out of a daydream, which only heightens the cerebral quality of the music. But there's no denying the pure visceral jolt of "I'm A Wheel" while "Less Than You Think," the penultimate cut, credited as a total group collaboration of composition and performance, proceeds from it literal-minded section to an extended drone: it's as if Wilco intended to give the listener time to digest what's been played up to that point. This quarter-hour cut is followed by the shortest track, "The Late Greats," a slice of electricity that drives home the overall impression of the album as well as how expertly the CD was sequenced.

Jeff Tweedy's made a point to follow his muse rather than logic since he formed Wilco in the wake of the demise of Uncle Tupelo. Responding to his creative urges as they move him, on both individual songs and full-length projects such as this album, he shows the mark of the genuinely committed improvisational musician. The utter distinction of this creation titled a ghost is born transcends jazz, or any other genre label for that matter.


Track Listing: 1. At Least That's What You Said 2. Hell Is Chrome 3. Spiders (Kidsmoke) 4. Muzzle of Bees 5. Hummingbird 6. Handshake Drugs 7. Wishful Thinking 8. Company in My Back 9. I'm a Wheel 10. Theologians 11. Less Than You Think 12. The Late Greats 13. [CD-ROM Track]

Personnel: Jim O'Rourke - Organ, Synthesizer, Guitar (Acoustic), Bass, Piano, Guitar (Electric), Producer, Engineer, Loops, Mixing, Arp 2600 John Stirratt - Synthesizer, Guitar (Acoustic), Bass, Guitar (Electric), Vocals (bckgr), Loops Jeff Tweedy - Synthesizer, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar, Guitar (Electric), Vocals, Loops Leroy Bach - Organ, Synthesizer, Guitar (Acoustic), Bass, Piano, Guitar (Electric), Loops Glenn Kotche - Synthesizer, Percussion, Drums, Dulcimer (Hammer), Loops Mike Jorgensen - Synthesizer, Piano, Engineer, Farfisa Organ, Rocksichord, Stylophone Tim Barnes - Percussion Frankie Montuoro - Dulcimer (Hammer Karen Waltuch - Viola

Title: a ghost is born | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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