The review for Jeff Tweedy’s new album Together At Last practically writes itself. You’ve no doubt read a variation of it at the end of comparable releases from similarly accomplished artists before:
“For hardcore Tweedy disciples, Together At Last is another interesting and insightful chapter in the man’s career. More casual fans, however, should pass in favor of one of the many worthwhile entry points into his incredible catalog.”
That’s probably true, technically speaking, though it undersells this collection of Tweedy songs from across the past quarter-century, sparsely arranged and intimately re-recorded. Since the late 1980s, Tweedy has steered his recorded output into all sorts of adventurous territories, from Midwestern twang-punk (Uncle Tupelo) and easygoing Americana (Wilco) to avant post-pop (Loose Fur) and noisy fuzz-rock (Wilco again). Along the way, he has written more great songs than just about any other human being who could be considered his contemporary.
Recorded at Wilco’s The Loft studio in Chicago, Together At Last draws from every era and iteration of Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo songbook, including well-known Wilco songs new and old, deeper album cuts and selections from two long-dormant side projects: his Jim O’Rourke collaboration Loose Fur and ‘90s alt-country supergroup Golden Smog. The songs cut such a wide swath across Tweedy’s catalog, you can imagine him picking a tracklist by pulling titles from a hat.
And yet, he’s written so many top-notch tunes, it’s hard to argue with his choices. The playful lilt of “Lost Love” feels like a callback to what was surely a simpler (or at least less scrutinized) time in Tweedy’s life. Loose Fur’s “Laminated Cat” enjoys an entirely different existence here, stripped of its percussive clutter and synth zip-zaps. The same goes for “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” where Tweedy’s impressionistic poetry about “tongue-tied lightning” and the “Bible-black predawn” cuts deeper when delivered in a subdued croak and paired only with acoustic guitar. Elsewhere, “I’m Always In Love”—a sleek power-pop highlight from Wilco’s over-produced Summerteeth album—undergoes the most extreme transformation, settling into a sweetly affable groove.
A few songs on Together At Last don’t have much to offer if you’re familiar with the album versions, including “Muzzle of Bees” and “In A Future Age.” The former, in particular, misses the noisy burst Tweedy’s band mates provided. But even they are effortlessly listenable, because Tweedy makes them so.
That’s where the value lies in this collection: not so much in the songs, but in Tweedy himself. For many years, his records have been densely rocking affairs; he has mostly performed in this stripped-down format on his irregular solo tours. Those performances are spellbinding, but they aren’t always easy to come by. So to finally have a recorded document of his quietest side is a treasure, no matter how necessary (or unnecessary) it might seem.
Or maybe that’s overthinking it. Maybe Together At Last feels like a worthy experiment because anytime you get a chance to stop and listen to Jeff Tweedy play and sing his songs, you do it.