Jeff Tweedy’s Together at Last rounds up songs by three of the prolific singer-songwriter’s bands—Wilco, Golden Smog, and Loose Furs—and presents them in solo acoustic form. An album of remakes can’t help but feel modest in scope, and Together at Last revels in its modesty. Though it opens with a slow and mournful reading of “Via Chicago,” the mood throughout is off-the-cuff and playful. These songs may be acoustic, but they don’t lack for spontaneous energy, namely upbeat takes on “I’m Always In Love” and “Hummingbird.”
That energy points to the most persuasive argument this album makes: that Tweedy is a gifted pop songwriter. His melodies are pliable enough that they sound equally good emanating from Wilco’s electric squall or the strumming of an acoustic guitar. “Dawned on Me” breezes by in under three minutes here and is propulsive and hook-laden; the lyrics are clipped and precise, more about the momentum of the song than the meaning behind it. “Lost Lost” is similarly effervescent and brief, sounding like a nugget of AM radio gold.
The more introspective numbers are a little dicier, if only because they place so much emphasis on Tweedy’s words—which occasionally veer toward the esoteric. “Ashes of American Flags,” which presaged the 9/11 tragedy, actually benefits from the stripped-down treatment, its lamentations gaining strength from Tweedy’s meditative performance. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” meanwhile, is better understood for its feel than for its linear meaning, and the original take’s sense of dislocation is missed here.
At its best, Together at Last almost makes one wish for a redo of previous albums. “Muzzle of Bees” and “Hummingbird” were both melodic gems on A Ghost Is Born, and they remain so here—without the burden of that album’s migraine-simulating sound effects and other dubious effects. Meanwhile, the earnestness of “Sky Blue Sky” thrives in the singer-songwriter setting, liberated from the dad-rock baggage that came with the original cut.
Together at Last feels tossed-off in the best possible sense—a casual set of songs and performances, where you can even hear the rustling of Tweedy’s clothes caught on the mic. In that sense, it’s very much in keeping with the spirit of the last couple of Wilco albums—the prickly Star Wars and jazzy Schmilco—which have been winsome in their laidback, unpretentious energy. The album won’t ever take a place among the landmarks in Tweedy’s catalogue, but it does provide a fresh way to hear and appreciate them.