Coward – Nels Cline
In the current Wilco, Jeff Tweedy is in a position similar to where Miles Davis was in the 60’s and 70’s. That is to say, he has a band where each member has the talent and vision to make his own record, but it’s rare that any of those records will sound much like Wilco.
At times on Coward, the same power-drill lead voice comes through that Nels Cline brought to the louder moments of Sky Blue Sky. However, much of this 72-minute solo disc recounts the guitar obsessions Cline has clearly been nurturing since before Tweedy started school — there are traces of ECM and Takoma and a rather large dose of John McLaughlin. One of the long pieces, “Onan (Suite),” feels at times like Pink Floyd, especially the second half of Ummagumma where each member had half a side to indulge himself, and the title suggests that Cline may be aware of the similarity.
Fortunately, Cline has the smarts to avoid making Coward the snoozefest that a solo guitar outing can easily become. He uses contrast, juxtaposing the drone of “Epiphyllum” with the Indian-folk melancholy of “Prayer Wheel,” and comes up with enough striking themes to make the 18-minute narrative of “Rod Poole’s Gradual Ascent To Heaven” convincing. And it comes as little surprise that he knows his way around frets and gadgets, skills that he takes many opportunities to demonstrate here.
Wilco is set to reconvene soon. In the meantime, Cline’s solo outing is worth investigating for fans of the ambient, psychedelic and guitaristic.