Tweedy, ‘Sukierae’ – Album Review
Fans may not realize it, but Jeff Tweedy's wife played a significant role in his first-ever release with his solo band known as, quite simply, Tweedy. The name of the record, 'Sukierae' -- a double-album with 20 new tracks from the Wilco frontman -- is also the nickname for Tweedy's wife, Sue Miller.
More than just the LP's name, though, Miller contributed to the overall sound of 'Sukierae.' Shortly after Tweedy started work on the album, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. The record is full of surprisingly upbeat musical arrangements given the circumstances, but as Tweedy stated in a recent interview, "I didn't want the album to sound like a premature eulogy, and working with my son was a great experience."
Perhaps that's Miller's ultimate contribution to the album, that of her son Spencer. He joined his dad in-studio as the drummer to work on the entire album; in fact, the studio band of Tweedy is essentially just Father and Son -- pianist Scott McCaughey is highlighted on a handful of tracks like 'Summer Noon' and 'Down From Above,' and Lucius singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig contributed their beautiful vocals to several songs as well.
Tweedy wrote 90 songs during the process of creating 'Sukierae,' and somehow, the singer-songwriter chose the absolute perfect 20 tracks and sequenced them in the only way they could ever be heard. He did so knowing that it would be released as a double-LP; each side of the two records features five tracks, and the start of side C, 'Flowering,' is the start of, essentially, the second act of 'Sukierae.'
The first act opens with 'Please Don't Let Me Be So Understood'; Tweedy doesn't really set the stage for what's to come with this tune. Instead, this song serves as a palate cleanser for those listeners who might come to the party with preconceived notions of what to expect from his first full-length solo record.
Will it be Wilco? Will it be country? Will it be rock?
The truth is, the answer to all of those questions is "Yes." But that's not the end of the conversation. There's a simple complexity to the music found on 'Sukierae,' one that can't be calculated after just one spin, and one that sets it apart from anything else in Tweedy's prolific body of work.
Like any good journey, 'Sukierae' has its ups and downs, it takes lefts when you want to take rights. It leads you somewhere unexpected.
A track like 'Pigeons' -- an obvious ode to Miller and how their children are dealing with her prognosis, with lyrics like, "Now that you're older, now that you've grown / Now that you're getting to know the unknown" -- is a low-key composition featuring delicate, signature Tweedy vocals. 'Diamond Light Pt. 1' sounds like it might have been left on the 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' cutting room floor, with lyrics to match: "Why don't we pick one script and read it," Tweedy asks as the song opens.
There's a lot of good advice to be found in the music, perhaps most poignantly in the first 'Sukierae' track fans ever heard, the aforementioned 'Summer Noon': "Never leave your mother's womb / Unless you want to see how hard a broken heart can swoon."
The man has a way with words and with music. While he paints a sunny picture with sanguine sounds, he fills the spaces with frank and honest words -- buoyant music with haunting vocals is a dichotomy that he has mastered on 'Sukierae.' This is the pinnacle of Tweedy's career; it's all encompassing, featuring the greatest hits of the songwriting skills he's honed over the last three decades.