It’s inherently unsettling to hear the words “I dreamed about killing you again last night.” Such is the tone set from the get-go on Jeff Tweedy’s Together At Last. The album is effectively a retrospective of the songwriter’s long career, taking most of its bulk from the vast Wilco discography, but also dabbling in various other Tweedy projects.
What distinguishes this solo effort from the twanging, glossy alt-country of Wilco is its sparseness. Armed with little more than (and often solely) his acoustic guitar, this collection of Tweedy’s songs finds a new life of bare-boned spookiness.
Like this opening line of “Via Chicago,” the biggest beneficiary of this stripping away are Tweedy’s lyrics. While sometimes hidden behind the big arrangements of his full bands, the songwriter’s words take on new potency in Together’s minimal atmosphere. They roll off the singer’s lips at once more sullenly, more deliberately, and with much more immediacy.
Tweedy’s ruminations on the point of it all—of art, life, etcetera—become more melancholic. On “Ashes of American Flags,” the quaver in the singer’s voice while singing “I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck” is unprotected by any force of irony or sleekness. The lyric becomes a wound that the singer bears openly, divulging his anxieties straight to the listener. This dynamic sometimes gives the impression that Tweedy might as well be sitting in the room beside you, as he lays bare his words. It’s no coincidence, considering the shrouded, pensive intimacy conveyed with the subject on the album cover.
The album contains a few Easter eggs for longtime listeners, like the delightfully sardonic arrangement of “Laminated Cat,” originally by Loose Fur, an offshoot group with Wilco’s Glenn Kotche and collaborator/session musician Jim O’Rourke. As such, those who already have some familiarity with Tweedy’s work will probably get more out of Together At Last than those who don’t. However, the unrefined, purer presentation of these songs makes good listening for the lyrically minded, regardless of whether or not they could name a single Golden Smog song. (It doesn’t hurt, either, that Tweedy is a fantastic guitarist, and makes ample use of his picking acumen here.)
The shape of Together At Last is a little too round. The mood doesn’t deviate much from the opening strains, and running less than 40 minutes in length, it still feels as if a track or two could have been trimmed. “Hummingbird” is among these lesser tracks that does not flourish in the new environment—it was probably better left as it was on Wilco’s A Ghost is Born.
Regardless of what could have been left off, though, Together At Last makes for rewarding listening. In a way, it’s little more than a showcase for Tweedy’s songwriting chops, but when the talent in question is of the class to which Tweedy belongs, it’s hard to complain.