That 2007's Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) is Wilco's gentlest, most genial LP is not likely a coincidence. Over the course of an ongoing 15-year, six-album recording career, the chameleonic, Chicago-based rockers have parted ways with more band mates than Spinal Tap. In fact, every release since 1995's debut A.M. has been punctuated by a subsequent roster change, none more ostracized (nor more publicized) than guitarist and founding member Jay Bennett's hasty departure during the stormy 2001 sessions for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band's Warner Bros. breakup record and eventual breakthrough.
But Sky Blue Sky was different: no spontaneous combustions or self-immolation, only swooning, swaying, walkabout guitar songs. Long the haggard voice of the group, Jeff Tweedy was thrown a lifeline in the form of an occasionally blistering electric six-string, owed in large part to 2004 addition Nels Cline, recently named one of Downbeat Magazine's "75 great guitarists." Unsurprisingly, reviewers who had grown accustomed to Wilco's curveballs were confounded by the changeup. "The best Eagles album the Eagles never made," opined Entertainment Weekly, damning with the faintest of praise; others ranged from "disarmingly simple" (Rolling Stone) to "thoroughly boring" (Dusted Magazine).
In 2009, Tweedy and Co. have produced a live concert film, Ashes of American Flags, and are now close to completing their Sky Blue Sky follow-up. The as-yet-untitled seventh studio LP is due in June on Nonesuch and features guest vocalist Feist on one track, as well as the now-settled lineup throughout. Whether it begets a barnburner a la Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or just another sweet backscratcher is a question that could be answered at Jazz Fest, where new compositions may creep into the set list.
5:30 p.m. Sat., April 25