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Jeff Tweedy: Love Is the King – “sleepy-eyed serenades”

The king of alt-country returns with love and a little bit more on his latest solo outing.

Jeff Tweedy has always been a master of simplicity but there’s no one more distinctive in alt-country circles. So much so that his latest solo outing, Love Is the King, feels as though it’s filled with songs that have been with us for ten years.

Tweedy has been on a stellar run of form, releasing his third solo album in as many years (and yes, we’re including last year’s RSD companion piece to 2018’s Warm in Warmer).

This time, we find Tweedy banging out a lockdown album with accompaniment from his sons, Spencer and Sammy. Continuing the theme of companion pieces, Love Is the King (which coincides with the release of Tweedy‘s second book, How to Write One Song) fits into the world the Chicago native has carved out with his last two releases, and while this was recorded during lockdown, it’s an album that doesn’t feel rushed at all.

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If anything, it’s one of Tweedy‘s finest outings as a producer. The drums feel organic, while Tweedy‘s vocals and plucky country-tinged guitars sound as close to the listener as they have since the days of A.M.

It all starts with the eponymous track as Tweedy sings, “But cry don’t you dare/When I die in the ring/Love isn’t fair/Love is the king.”

Once again, Love Is the King is filled with Tweedy‘s unique storytelling and subtle use of metaphor. “There’s nothing worse than a hearse driving slow/
Out on the tollway/Stopping at the tolls.”
(Opaline) and “It’s been a bad day lately/A lonely place I can’t endure/Being so far away/Always makes things worse.” (Bad Day Lately).

Jeff Tweedy - Love Is the King

Opaline in particular is a song many of the early incarnation of Tweedy/Wilco fandom will be excited about, with an overt country flavour through twangy harmonics and Spencer‘s soft rhythms which, throughout most of the album, ripple like gentle waves up to shore.

A Robin or a Wren is a breezy country waltz with Tweedy contemplating death. The song serving as an extension to Warm’s Don’t Forget which includes the lyrical gem, “We all think about dying/Oh, don’t let it kill you.”

It’s not the only time Tweedy hints at thoughts pertaining to shuffling from the mortal coil. On Even I Can See, he sings, “Even Gods have to die/But once in a while/There’s a God/Even I can see.” It’s Tweedy sitting back and contemplating throughout a time in our history when the hours of the day seem endless and we are afforded the space for such thoughts, no matter how dark or harrowing they may be.

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It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Both Gwedolyn and the album highlight in Guess Again are upbeat, optimistic country jams that could have easily found their way onto Wilco‘s Sky Blue Sky.

They pit well against the likes of Natural Disaster and Save It For Me. Both sleepy-eyed serenades that are tailor-made for a lazy weekend morning while the atmospheric harmonics during Half-Asleep close out Love Is the King emphatically as Tweedy whispers, “When you need me/I’ll be there.”

Love Is the King is a fine addition to Tweedy‘s discography and along with its two older siblings, can be described as the most interesting material he has produced since Wilco‘s Star Wars. To accompany his new book, How to Write One Song, Love Is the King caps off yet another solid year in new material for the alt-country Godfather.

Love Is the King is out now via dBpm Records Inc.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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