Monday, January 12, 2009

Jay Bennett - Whatever Happened, I Apologize

Jay Bennett is a talented guy. After coming up with Titanic Love Affair in the 90's, he teamed up with Jeff Tweedy post-Uncle Tupelo dissolution to form a little band you may have heard of called Wilco. The first two records were good, great from where I'm sitting, and I saw a ton of the shows behind both releases. The second record, Being There, was a double, and showed Tweedy as a gent that might not be all that tightly wrapped. Perhaps you were at the Mercury Lounge show back in the day when he jumped off the stage, coked to the gills, and grabbed literally their biggest fan by the neck for mentioning that the bass might be too loud, then stormed off like a two-year-old for a half-hour before he returned, asking if all the assholes had left. That was great for all parties involved.

And a point of reckoning, yet another case of where it might not be the best idea to get that close to your favorite artists, literally or figuratively. Being There was still a pretty great record and tour, but it soon started to get kind of Agatha Christie out Chicago way. UT holdover Ken Coomer was the first to go, then Bob Egan and Max Johnston, leaving Tweedy and bassist John Stiratt the last men standing. Around that time, the I Am Trying To Break Your Heart documentary dropped, encapsulating the ridiculousness Wilco encountered recording and releasing their Summerteeth record. It was a decent movie, save for the rampant fanboy-dom by director Sam Jones and the fact that it made Jay look like both an idiot and a sideman, when he was actually a founder and a huge driving force behind the band. To add insult to injury, Bennett was handed his hat and asked where his hurry was soon after, and Wilco disappeared up Jeff Tweedy's ass. Any band that is that boring with Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche in the fold is a shocking aberration musically.

Bennett took his toys and opened up his own studio, recording artists like Mark Eitzel (and Blues Traveler, evidently) as well as a couple stellar records with Ed Burch. The records were crammed to the gills with the hooks and arrangements that made the early Wilco material great, but didn't sell anything close to the level of the Wilco material released at the same time. I'm sure Bennett was bummed, but his records have gotten better and better. And cheaper and cheaper. In fact, the newest release, Whatever Happened, I Apologize is currently available both free and legally via the good folk of Rock Proper (a download label run by studio partners of Bennett) here. It's pretty great, with maybe a little bit more of an Elvis Costello lean than previous releases. That is rarely a bad thing with bands in general and with Bennett in particular. Bennett is no Costello, but he certainly has nothing to apologize for. Evidently this free record is a precursor to a more expansive release called Kicking At The Perfumed Air. I'm not sure there is a release date for it as yet, but after these ten teasers I'm pretty excited to check it out. While we're all waiting, check out Whatever Happened, I Apologize and tell your friends. Maybe it'll wake them from the narcolepsy that is the last Tweedy snooze-fest.


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