Review: Uncut’s “Wilco – The Ultimate Music Guide”

With their ‘Sounds of the New West’ compilations Uncut has always been the most likely of the major music magazines to cover “our” sort of music. They also publish a series of “Ultimate Music Guides” examining the career of an artist in detail. So far, they have mostly focused on people with the maximum shelf appeal in WH Smiths, Beatles, Dylan, Bowie. But now they are looking further afield and this time it’s the turn of Wilco.

Branded as a 25th anniversary special, based on ‘A.M‘. being released in March 1995, the format follows others in the series with reviews of each album, archive features from Uncut and the archives of other magazines in the group, Vox, Melody Maker and NME, and new pieces. In this case the new writing includes an introduction by Jeff Tweedy himself. No earth-shattering revelations, but it’s always good to hear straight from the source. Reviews of the Uncle Tupelo albums (4 stars all round for the studio records) follow this. An archive article from Uncut on the life and death of the band is interesting about the events that lead to Son Volt and Wilco.

As someone who has only ever been a casual fan the in-depth reviews of each Wilco album are a good way to fill in the blanks. The slightly odd thing about this series is that they star rate each song, meaning you have to stare hard to work out what they think of the overall album. Unsurprisingly ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ comes out on top, and it looks like my next purchase will be ‘Sukirae’, Tweedy’s album with his son Spencer which gets a glowing appraisal.

The best article here is an interview made up of questions from fans and other musicians, which does pluck out some fresh nuggets. You might think that filling up a magazine with a dozen interviews and reports on a band might lead to repetition, but Tweedy usually has something interesting to say and the changes in band personnel mean that there is always a new viewpoint. This hasn’t always been the case with other magazines in the series – Van Morrison.

Towards the back of the book the section on collaborations and side projects, confirms my view that the first two Golden Smog albums are great and that Steve Forbert’s ‘Rocking Horse Head’ isn’t. The beauty of this sort of publication is that unless you are a real hardcore fan you will almost certainly discover something new to listen to. The series has also covered The Byrds, Tom Petty, and Dylan and a few other related artists. Wilco are an ideal subject for the Ultimate Music Guide treatment and hopefully it will sell well enough to prompt a deeper dive into Americana.

Author: Tim Martin

I spend some of my time in Clevedon (Somerset) and some in Crianlarich (Scotland), but most of it on the road in between listening to Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Over The Rhine, or anything else that makes the miles go by quicker.

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