By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Wilco--like the similarly wonderful Jayhawks, with whom Wilco likely will tour come summer--are the midpoint between the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Replacements, their brash rock and roll linked to country by the use of traditional acoustic instruments such as the dobro, mandolin, and fiddle, and the reliable pedal steel guitar. "Casino Queen" from Wilco's recently released A.M. owes as much to Bill Monroe as to the Stones' Beggar's Banquet (much of which was cribbed from Gram Parsons, via his friendship with Keith Richards).
It is music that defies easy categorization because it encompasses so much--it is as poignant ("I Thought I Held You") as it is funny ("Passenger Side," about a drunk always hitching a ride with a sober pal), and as bluegrass ("That's Not the Issue") as it is pop ("I Must Be High"). And in concert, Wilco performs all of the Uncle Tupelo songs Tweedy wrote, including "New Madrid" and "No Sense in Lovin'" from Anodyne.
Ultimately, what makes Wilco a great band instead of just a good one is the way Tweedy gruffly, beautifully sings his deceptively simple words with the ease of a guy relating tales to a few friends; it's in the way he finds joy in singing breakup songs. And it's the way in which this band--which includes Dallas' Max Johnston, a 25-year-old who has only recently begun to listen to, and like, rock and roll--sounds so natural and relaxed crafting songs that are wide-open and optimistic even when they're despairing.
Wilco performs May 4 at the Sons of Hermann Hall. Kevin Salem and The Old 97's open.