Chicago 2017 (dBpm Records)
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Feb. 21, 2020
Drop the needle on this blue-star-dappled clear vinyl and out warbles a voice like bag of marbles just waking up. If you're experiencing it for the first time, be prepared, because wax witchcrafts last forever. Petroleum-only limited edition, Chicago 2017 documents a rehearsal (the Loft) and show (the Vic) from the Texan (1961-2019) song savant's final roadtrip. Backed by Tweedy – Wilco helmsman Jeff Tweedy, son Spencer Tweedy (d), Darin Gray (b), Jim Elkington (g), and MVP keyman/auxiliary strummer Liam Cunningham – this audio recovery rolls maudlin opener "The Story of an Artist" behind exquisitely pointillist backing. "Like a Monkey in a Zoo" then gets up a head of steam with a six-string hook as instantly recognizable as the moment Wilco began adapting Woody Guthrie on Mermaid Avenue. Hail another such union fusion – and neither Tweedy needs to sing a note! Vulnerability specter "Casper the Friendly Ghost" caps the moment, whereas Loft extract "Hey Joe" misses the crackle of a live audience. No joke this sixpiece, whose second knockout seals side A: beatific tap, tap, tapping on "Worried Shoes" warms up head-snapping fraternal twin "Cold Hard World" ("of no"), whose "Imagine"-like pace and poise ("I met a fireman who said you never forget burning flesh") flows dopamine. Johnston's childlike lack of emotional filters staggers until the end. Side two holds that line atop two iterations of "Funeral Home," prescient pop acting as harbinger: "Got me a coffin, shiny and black/ Going to the funeral home and I'm never coming back," to which its author adds, "Billions and billions of people have already died. You too will die. Sing along with us, won't you." Between the casual Revolver crackle in "Girl of My Dreams," Lennon & McCartney lullaby "I'm So Tired," and Sgt. Pepper's shoe-in "Speeding Motorcycle," DJ nation will lift their voices all right. "Ready to go to the comic book store?" asks Johnston at the last, after the "Funeral Home" prep jolts a nervy lifeforce. "I think that was a good one to end on," agrees Tweedy Sr.