The Upshot: Wilco fretboard virtuoso steps out with a solo album of originals and Great American Songbook selections that find him expertly connecting sound/song and intimacy/romance.
BY ADOLF ALZUPHAR
Nels Cline’s Blue Note debut Lovers is a musical bonanza: guitar, the lyrical and the experimental. And it’s monumental when the album’s band lets loose.
Lovers is two discs of 18 songs. Some are original compositions and others are Cline’s own. According to Cline (who’s also a guitarist in Wilco), Lovers “is meant to be as personal in its sound and in its song selection as it is universal in its endeavor to assay or map the parameters of ‘mood’ as it once pertained, and currently pertains, to the peculiar and powerful connection between sound/song and intimacy/romance.”
Cline’s songs certainly meet those objectives. We hear mood throughout, a sort of sensual and melancholic mood at times, and an upbeat though dark mood at others. There’s even a song named “Glad to Be Unhappy” (a songbook classic with music written by Richard Rodgers) on the first disc. Cline’s guitar shines, but so do songs other instruments such as trumpet, leading us down some sort of neo-’50s of gallant entertainment.
This album’s songs do succeed at connecting sound/song and intimacy/romance, though with limitations. This society has come to associate with intimacy/romance like never before, to lyric and not to instrumentation; an Apollonian turn to clarity with which any musician of romantic song must be concerned, adding to any Dionysian harmony, melody, and rhythm. Cline’s songs are sultry, nuanced, and often slow, so all signify romance, but only as much as can be conveyed via purely instrumental music.
Cline’s “The Bond” is light, lyrical, and at times experimental. It’s this album’s highlight. “The Bond” has the singalong quality of a song like “Au clair de la lune.” That it’s being played primarily on guitar makes it that much more easy-going.
“You Noticed,” also written by Cline, is the opposite of “The Bond”; it is dark and hesitant. However, the song is beautiful in its own right. It takes much more sitting attentively through than “The Bond,” but it’s worth one’s undivided attention.
Aficionados of jazz’s beginnings will want to listen to “Why Was I Born”; the tune’s trumpet may remind listeners of Papa Celestin or Louis Armstrong. It is a song that is raw in a way that life can be. Cline attempts to lead the song with his guitar, but it’s the trumpet that will capture a listener’s attention the most.
On Lovers, Cline is effective at making re-interpreted songbook selections his own. Comparing his “Beautiful Love” to Benny Golson’s (the music was originally written by Wayne King, Victor Young, and Egbert Van Alstyne) is strong evidence of this. He does the same to Jimmy Giuffre’s “Cry Want,” adding some depth and city slick to it by replacing wind instruments with guitar.
In an article on Miles Davis’ album Bye Bye Blackbird, French writer Philippe Sollers invoked the following from a Guillaume Apollinaire poem to describe Miles’ artistry: “I do not sing this word nor the stars, I sing all the possibilities of myself outside of this world and the stars.”
“I sing all the possibilities of myself” can also be said about of Cline’s Lovers. He succeeds at imposing himself throughout these tunes, creating a valuable album in the process.
DOWNLOAD: “The Bond,” “Beautiful Love,” “You Noticed”