Wilco is basically the reigning king of alt-rock -- even when it stumbled, it was still keeping a hand on the throne.
And fortunately, after the disappointing "A Ghost is Born," Wilco returns with a mellow, more optimistic sound in "Sky Blue Sky." Frankly, Jeff Tweedy sounds more at peace with the world, and he wraps that peace in a back-to-basics country-rock blanket.
"Maybe the sun will shine today/The clouds will blow away/Maybe I won't feel so afraid/I will try to understand either way," Tweedy sings over a folky guitar, a swelling violin and a flickering piano. It sounds like a promise to a loved one, after his stint with addiction: "I will try to understand/Everything has its plan/Either way I'm going to stay right for you..."
He follows it up with a gentle river of mellow, smooth alt-rockers laced with keyboard, stomping rockers, loosely-wound acoustic ballads, drawling electro-country, and combinations of all of the above. And they're all slow-burning, meditative and reflective, right up to the hopeful "What Light" and the delicate piano'n'strings of "On and On and On."
You could call this Jeff Tweedy's "recovery album" -- it's filled with new hope, old fears, repairing relationships with loved ones ("you're gonna need to be patient with me") and reflections on the world. There's something very personal about most of these songs.
And the music has gone back to basics -- rippling acoustic guitar, piano melodies and ripples of retro keyboard, and some blasts of bass and violin. While Wilco doesn't forge any new territory, they do polish up what they have with some lovely harmonies and layers of delicate instrumentation.
Tweedy's slightly rough voice is a pleasant one, registering yearning, sorrow and optimism through the album. The lyrics stumble at times, such as one cringingly awkward intro ("Impossible Germany/Unlikely Japan/Wherever you go/Wherever you land"), but fortunately are fairly solid for the rest of the album ("When the mysteries we believe in/Aren't dreamed enough to be true/Some side with the leaves...")
"Sky Blue Sky" isn't quite Wilco at its best, but it is Wilco in a solid, musically adept place, with a note of optimism that hasn't quite been there before.