Old School Freight Train

Pickin' on Wilco: Casino Side

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It's hard not to love the irony -- now that Wilco have moved past country music as one of their primary influences, they've gained a large enough audience to attract the attention of CMH Records, the label that has littered the market with bluegrass "tributes" to the Who, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Elton John, and Jimmy Buffett (along with more likely candidates such as Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead). Most of CMH's Pickin' On... albums sound as if they were put together with just a dash more care than a 16-year-old puts into assembling a Big Mac, and while Pickin' On Wilco: Casino Side is a notch or two above their average, that only helps so much. A collection of acoustic interpretations of some of Wilco's earlier material could have made for a fine album, but Pickin' On Wilco instead focuses primarily on songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth, which for the most part don't comfortably lend themselves to a bluegrass arrangement. (Compare the relative grace of this album's covers of "I Must Be High" and "Casino Queen" from A.M. with the clumsy takes on "Can't Stand It" and "A Shot in the Arm.") And while the musicians on this disc (members of a solid "newgrass"-influenced group called Old School Freight Train) sound sympathetic to the material, the arrangements for the most part aren't very imaginative, trying to mimic the tempos and melodies of the originals without letting too much else get in the way, and the final product sounds pretty rote. Maybe CMH should have reached a little farther back and made an Uncle Tupelo tribute instead; as it is, Casino Side doesn't have a whole to offer either Wilco fans or bluegrass devotees.

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