It’s no secret that the music community is waiting on pins and needles for the next Wilco release. The Wilco / Uncy Tupelo story is a rich one, full of arrivals and departures making for an ever shifting sound palate. The additions of Nels Cline and Pat Sansone before the Ghost is Born tour certainly lent freshness to the band’s live sound, but we have yet to see what they add to the studio mix. If Sansone turns out to be as gifted in the studio as Jay Bennett, then Jeff Tweedy has original Wilco and Tupelo member John Stiratt to thank as he had discovered the multi-instrumentalist years ago. Stiratt and Sansone were college buddies joined in their love of the band Love, reuniting in the early part of the decade to form the Autumn Defense, an acoustic pop band that will bring to mind the soft rock A.M. days of the ’60s and ’70s. The gentle harmonies and mellow sounds of the Autumn Defense might not lessen the anticipation for the next Wilco release, but it is like the basket of bread before a sumptuous meal, warm, inviting and satisfying enough to quiet those hunger pains. In fact, this duo’s third, oddly eponymously titled, album even surpasses its `Bread’ status (pun intended), allowing us to fill up on its heartiness, even letting us forget, albeit temporarily, that there even is a Wilco.
Upon seeing the title of the first track, a jazzy tune that can recall at times, yes, Steely Dan, I immediately thought of the Simpsons. This isn’t new for me as almost anything can remind me of that show, but “Canyon Arrow” was just too reminiscent of the hilarious SUV parody, `Canyonero.’ A flute and guiro combine with the acoustic guitars to give the song’s canyon an actual location, that being Laurel Canyon. “Estate Remains” finds common ground between the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and the Beatles as funneled through Jon Brion or Sean Lennon. Both Sansone’s and Stiratt’s voices are absolutely gorgeous on this track, making it one of the finest on the record. There are words within the silky and delicate ballad “Where You Are” that sum up the Autumn Defense in a few words, “We don’t need to be in the spotlight, or living without regret.” Stiratt especially could have easily just counted his blessings of being in Wilco, but that wasn’t enough for Tweedy’s right hand man. The AD allows him to truly get in touch with some of his favorite music.
“Winterlight” continues this brilliantly constructed return to soft rock with cues that recall America (oddly enough with their own new album out this month), the Eagles, Cat Stevens and the Doobie Brothers. Listening to “Feel You Now” brought me back to sitting in the backseat of my dad’s old bright yellow Pontiac Le Mans and listening to the Little River Band. For a real hint to the sound of the Autumn Defense, listen to the lyrical cues in “We Would Never Die.” The words “waiting for the bus to come” recall the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” while “reelin’ with the news,” recalls Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” However, in the meantime, the twanging lap steel and sweet vocals are more a match for the Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit and his song, “I Can’t Tell You Why.” Other lyrics, in this song particularly, also give insight into the California tones of the AD, including references to feeling the sun on their backs. The duo’s first two albums featured pictures of the sea, and therefore didn’t do much to avoid the `yacht rock’ designations, but this self-titled album is more desert than sea, more sand than surf.
“City Bells” takes somewhat of a left turn into the jazz territory of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, with incredibly juxtaposed piano and acoustic guitar for a magnificent samba. Maybe Sansone picked up a little of this from former collaborator Josh Rouse. The succeeding tracks continue to bring on everlasting sunset with mellow jazz and folk sounds drifting out of the afterglow. “I Knew It All Along” is a particular standout in the latter half of the CD, again featuring lovely turns and inspired chord progressions. And in writing this review, it’s just dawned on me what the Autumn Defense has done. Stiratt and Sansone have composed the ultimate ’70s era panty-dropping collection. This is the album that you play while you make sweet, sweet love to your lady by the fire. This is the album that you play when she’s in the carpeted conversion van with you, your AC/DC and Zeppelin tapes stowed under the seat temporarily. This is the album that turns “Sit on it” and a slap into “Far out” and an extremely memorable night. Thank you, Autumn Defense, you’ve just made my newfound bachelorhood a whole lot easier.
The Eagles – The Long Run
The Little River Band – Greatest Hits
America – America