To say that the end results were "mixed" is an understatement. That’s why we should be justifiably nervous whenever we see the word “unplugged”
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We have MTV to blame for this sort of thing. Back in the late eighties, you couldn’t move for bands strumming diligently on acoustic guitars in a vain attempt to prove they were serious, sincere artists. For a while, it seemed like a good idea – an antidote to the prevalent production style of the time which involved pouring digital keyboard noises on poor, unsuspecting songs like custard and making humble snare drums sound like controlled explosions. Bands jumped at the chance to be seen as “proper” and “real” and hastily ditched all the trappings of the 20th century in favour of mandolins, upright basses and pianos which they hadn’t touched since they were in high school. To say that the end results were “mixed” is an understatement. That’s why we should be justifiably nervous whenever we see the word “unplugged”.
Jeff Tweedy is an exception. He’s obviously no stranger to an acoustic instrument and all the songs on his solo debut “Together At Last” sound just fine, stripped back to guitar, harmonica and vocals. But there’s the rub – they don’t sound any better or worse than the band versions – they just sound…different.
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Tweedy has an enviable back catalogue, from straight up country tinged americana, to boozy, Stones-y boogie via the offer-kilter glitchyness of the “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” album. There’s a ton of stuff that Tweedy could have used, reworked, turned inside out and shown us a different side of. Instead, we get a pleasant, band-less trip through his repertoire. And that’s kind of a shame.
It’s not all bad news – “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” when stripped of all the weirdness of the original version is a gem – it’s delivered beautifully by Tweedy here, with an understated vocal and a charming, folk guitar arrangement. “Laminated Cat” which originally appears on a Tweedy side project, Loose Fur, has a woozy, narcotic feel, but the “Together At Last” version sounds like it could have come off “After The Gold Rush”. If only all of this record worked as well… It has some outstanding moments – his playing on “Muzzle of Bees” is a joy to behold and the choice of material is great, it’s just the reasoning behind the project which is a little mystifying. It’s almost as if Tweedy has approached the record process backwards – he’s made the finished record, now he’s starting work on the demos.
We’ve all bought those “legacy” editions of albums where the rough versions of the songs have been tacked on the end of CD 2, so the record label can charge three times the price of the original release. Sometimes they’re a fascinating look at what a song could have turned out to be. Sometimes they’re noble but failed experiments. Sometimes they’re raw and rough versions hinting at greatness. This album has elements of all of those things, but for the most part, “Together At Last” sounds like something Tweedy did while he was waiting for the rest of the band to show up to the studio.
“Together At Last” is available now via Anti
The track listing is as follows:
1. Via Chicago 2. Laminated Cat 3. Lost Love 4. Muzzle of Bees 5. Ashes of American Flags 6. Dawned on Me 7. In a Future Age 8. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart 9. Hummingbird 10. I’m Always in Love 11. Sky Blue Sky
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