Does anyone remember when Wilco was a real, dyed-in-the-wool country band? In their first release as a unit, Adam Klein & The Wild Fires come awfully close to invoking some of the early period of the mega-band’s output. Sure, there is certainly less grovel in Klein’s voice than in Tweedy’s, but the songwriting on Sky Blue DeVille (and on the title track in particular) is reminiscent of A.M.- to Summerteeth-era Wilco.
Throughout the record, Klein and company have the wisdom not to over-do anything. This means, among other things, that guitar wizardry takes a backseat to precise playing and carefully crafted vocals. That might sound boring on paper, but the album spotlights a singer-songwriter who knows that restraint is often just as important as showing off one’s instrumental prowess. As a result, listeners might also hear the spirit of Big Star’s Alex Chilton living on in many of these songs. On “Days to Come,” for example, Klein wears his influences on his sleeve by offering soft strumming and earnest, direct lyrics.
Like others in the long tradition of country and Western music, Klein and his band are at their best when they’re waxing about the experience of loneliness. Even a quick listen through Sky Blue DeVille will convince listeners that these genres are exactly where Klein is taking his cues. Although it might buck some of the more traditional instrumentation found on the rest of the album, “Goodnight Nobody” does an excellent job tapping into these feelings with horns and a slick electric guitar. Again, nothing too fancy, but these songs don’t need anything extra to remain excellent. 4 out of 5.
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