Hope and compassion are not emotions people often associate with rock & roll -- joy, rebellion, fury, lust, and exhilaration are usually parts of the formula, but few people think of rock & roll as the equivalent of a warm hug from a good friend in a time of need. Jeff Tweedy wants to change that, or at least that seems to be the recurring theme of 2018's Warm, the Wilco founder's first solo album of original material. Tweedy has never been afraid to dwell on his introspective side, as far back as his days in Uncle Tupelo, and it takes center stage on Warm, which features 11 songs about the search for respite in a world where little seems to go right. The lyrics can be read as a reaction to personal crises (the death of Tweedy's father and his wife's ongoing medical problems) as well as the chaos that has erupted all around the globe in recent years, but either way, the common theme is that hard times are universal, and that we are not alone. Tweedy already wrote a song called "You Are Not Alone" for Mavis Staples, but Warm feels like a concept album spun from that theme, and he's wisely refused to turn these songs into a pep talk or a series of affirmations. Warm doesn't always sound especially cheery, but this is music that comes from a place of caring and acceptance, and it acknowledges that seeing the light at the end of the tunnel can be awfully hard work at times. The lyrics speak to these feelings throughout, and the music is a superb match, finding reassurance in the shadows of the melodies and the plaintive acoustic guitars and swells of pedal steel. (This is the twangiest album Tweedy has made since Wilco's Being There in 1996, though there are enough left turns in the production and arrangements that you don't forget this is still the guy who made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Star Wars.) And whether he's gleefully calling up a Biblical flood on "Let's Go Rain," pondering his struggles with himself and his audience's expectations in "Having Been Is No Way to Be" ("Now people say, 'What drugs did you take?'/And 'Why don't you start taking them again?'"), or struggling with his inner voice on "I Know What It's Like," Tweedy's vocals are disarmingly expressive, with the rhythms of a conversation at 2 A.M. but an emotional honesty that doubles down on the impact of the songs. In his fulsome liner notes, author George Saunders writes, "Should I be wary of life or enjoy it? the listener asks. Yes, Jeff Tweedy says." That sums up Warm well enough, but it doesn't quite convey how effectively this music expresses the mysteries contained in that statement. In its own quiet way, Warm is one of the most powerful works of Tweedy's career, and it's the sort of music too many of us need today.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming