Tweddy tugs at heart strings

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First Posted: 9/16/2014

Coping with a loved one who is underground treatment for cancer is heavy stuff.

It’s happening to someone in all of our lives at this very moment, be it first, second or third hand. For those along for the ride, the chemo treatments, hospital trips and moments that intersect hope and uncertainty, are a mess of emotions. Emotions that need to be worked through to properly deal with the weight of the situation.

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and his eldest son Spencer are two such individuals currently on the frontlines of cancer’s evil grip, processing what is happening to the beloved matriarch of their family, wife and mom Susan Miller Tweedy. She was diagnosed with two forms of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier this year.

Susan’s Facebook posts have come to include funny and forthcoming posts chronicling her progress of fighting cancer. They are inspiring, especially to a person whose own family has been ravaged by the “C” word.

The news about Mama Tweedy came down while Jeff and Spencer were in the process of recording their debut album together, Sukierae, titled after Susan’s family nickname. While it may not be directly addressed through the course of this 20 song listen, the spectrum of feelings coinciding with everything going on in their lives is indeed present. Topics such as mortality, devotion and the prospect of loss are all touched upon in some form or another.

Tweedy has always been a master of balancing art and emotion. But not since his last successful stab at the double LP, Wilco’s 1996 masterpiece Being There, has it come across so indelibly. There are several moments of Sukierae that are similar to the quieter moments of Being There.

Perhaps it’s a testament to how stripped down and organic this new album of Tweedy’s seems to sound against the din of the last few Wilco records.

The album is largely performed by Spencer on the drums and Jeff on everything else save for a few songs that feature longtime pal Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows/Minus 5/R.E.M. fame on keys. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the Brooklyn indie pop band Lucius appear on occasional backing vocals. And while there are songs that conjure the kind of mighty racket Tweedy has mastered on tracks like “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood” and “I’ll Sing It”, Sukierae’s finest moments are in the homey acoustic performances like “Wait for Love”, “Summer Noon” (featuring McCaughey on “typewriter”) and “Fake Fur Coat”.

It is indeed sad to recognize the trying time in the lives of the Tweedy family. Sukierae is nevertheless a triumphant tribute to the beauty and frailty of life, love and human spirit that ranks high, high up there with the best work in Jeff Tweedy’s catalog. And the fact he made it with his talented boy is a testament to the boundless potential that awaits a team of father and son when they put their heads together.