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Sky Blue Sky 

Wilco

The Deal: Wilco opts for craft and balance over angst and experimentation.

The Good: Jeff Tweedy and his crackerjack band may take the road already traveled on Sky Blue Sky, but there's no denying the elegant songwriting and flawless execution of these back-to-basic cuts. The unadorned folk and twang of the title track and album highlight "Please Be Patient With Me" are throwbacks to Wilco's AM/Being There-era, while other songs recall the laid-back, early-'70s FM radio vibe of America's gentle country-pop or the slick two-guitar attack of Countdown to Ecstasy Steely Dan. If the creative restlessness of recent Wilco records feels like it's missing here, the open-book narratives of Sky Blue Sky explain why. The drug-fueled insecurities and self-examination of the last record -- Tweedy went from recording 2004's A Ghost Is Born into detox shortly after -- are replaced by a calm colored by rehabilitation, though free of 12-step banalities. Tweedy looks back at his previous fucked-up incarnation and openly marvels that he's now capable of acceptance, a theme that courses through the entire record beginning with the Rosetta Stone opener, "Either Way."

The Bad: Tweedy's inner turmoil and existential angst made for dramatic musical theater on previous Wilco records; not everything worked, but it was a high-wire act that commanded attention. No one should begrudge him his peace of mind, but the search for balance is so omnipresent here that some songs glide by at room temperature, almost indistinguishable from one another.

The Verdict: Sky Blue Sky's even-keel approach still trumps most bands' strum-und-drang.

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