“Just because I can’t describe it,” Jeff Tweedy sings halfway through Warm, “doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.” On his first formal solo album of new songs (and second non-Wilco project in the last few years), Tweedy — never one to take a year off from songwriting — plunges far into his own fears, thoughts and anxieties. The result is a probing collection of understated indie-folk.
Tweedy takes a laid-back, contented singer-songwriter approach not dissimilar to the down-tempo mood of Wilco’s most recent offering, Schmilco. As the title suggests, there’s a reassuring familiarity to much of Warm, with several songs, like “Let’s Go Rain” and “Don’t Forget,” leaning more heavily on country-roots textures than anything Tweedy has done since at least Being There. Many of the songs here gently gesture towards Tweedy’s past work: the opening chord progression to “Having Been Is No Way To Be” recalls Tweedy’s “You Are Not Alone” (written for Mavis Staples); the fingerpicked intro to “From Far Away” hints at earlier acoustic numbers like “Forget the Flowers.”
But the easygoing arrangements on Warm bely a much darker, conflicted undercurrent running through Tweedy’s writing. If his longstanding difficulties and insecurities were always present just barely beneath the surface on Wilco’s classic records, they are starkly prominent and central to what is often a deeply moving new LP.
The 51-year-old singer-songwriter grapples with mortality more head-on than ever on songs like “Warm (When The Sun Has Died)” and “From Far Away.” Elsewhere, Tweedy seems to be working through deep familial pain, and he’s sharper than ever on one of his trademark topics: the breakdown of intimate communication: “I know it’s a lie,” he sings on the highlight “I Know What It’s Like, “when you say it’s okay.”
With his veteran band currently on hiatus, this is convincing proof that Jeff Tweedy’s non-Wilco detours have become more than mere side projects to fill gaps between albums but rather, precious, intimate portraits of a songwriter who’s willing to openly display more of his scars than ever before.