For some critics, Wilco are objectively the best rock band in the world at the moment. Now singer Jeff Tweedy and his virtuoso friends are returning to their roots on «Cruel Country». That sounds brilliant too.

Country music can be very corny and very conservative. On the other hand, when the left-liberal virtuoso band Wilco from cool Chicago releases an album entitled “Cruel Country” and acknowledges their roots, the result is something completely different, much better.

Namely a record full of pearls between earthy country rock, gentle folk and warm songwriter ballads. With lyrics that don’t transport a “redneck” ideology, but tell cleverly and often sadly about the torn state of their own country, which can be so beautiful – but also so “stupid and cruel”, i.e. stupid and cruel.

Lots of material for best-of playlists

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy (54) has just published a book about the art of songwriting – and in the 21 (!) tracks on this double album he proves why he is a more than suitable author for the subject. At least half a dozen of the new songs should find their way into many best-of playlists for the band, which has consisted of six musician friends for 20 years.

This certainly applies to the central axis of the twelfth album from the Grammy winners with “The Universe”, “Many Worlds” and the ravishingly beautiful “Hearts Hard To Find”. But the title song, “Hints”, “Country Song Upside-down”, “Story To Tell”, “Mystery Binds” and “Sad Kind Of Way” are also great.

Welcome to Wilcountry

For “Cruel Country”, which was a little too long at almost 80 minutes, Wilco returned to the way they worked with their – also stylistically comparable – masterpiece “Sky Blue Sky” (2007), with quasi-live recordings in the loft studio in Chicago . Again, sensational guitar parts by Nels Cline can be heard, and the band plays at the highest level throughout. Tweedy’s melancholic vocals, the reduced arrangements, the crystal clear album production – everything at its best.

Apparently, Tweedy no longer has any problems with the fact that his songs are at least loosely connected to one of the most traditional US music genres. Now, “we’re excited to embrace that and call the music we make country,” he says. Country in the classic sense (i.e. Country

Jeff Tweedy: «How to write a song». Hardcover, 160 pages. Original title: «How to write one song», translation by Philip Bradatsch. Heyne-Verlag 2022. ISBN-10: 3453273850. 19 euros.

Wilco concert dates in Germany: 14.6. Cologne, E-Werk; 16.6. Frankfurt, Old Opera