The soundtrack album for the film Chelsea Walls -- which marks the directorial debut of actor Ethan Hawke -- also happens to feature the first solo recordings from Uncle Tupelo founder and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. However, those expecting a healthy dose of either UT's punk-fueled roots rock or Wilco's smart and adventurous pop are in for a disappointment; Tweedy's twangy side has been in steady retreat over the past couple years, and the closest the album gets to showing a country influence is the presence of "When the Roses Bloom Again," an unreleased song (with lyrics by Woody Guthrie) from the sessions that produced the Wilco/Billy Bragg collaboration Mermaid Avenue. There's also another unreleased Wilco cut, the low-key "Promising," which wouldn't have been entirely out of place on Being There, along with a lovely live performance of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" from jazz legend Jimmy Scott and two vocals from actor Robert Sean Leonard, who plays a songwriter in the film (and isn't a bad singer, though I don't know if I'd buy an album from the man). But the bulk of the album is made up of atmospheric and often atonal pieces performed by Tweedy and Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche, which usually amount to minimalist noodling from Tweedy on guitar and/or piano while Kotche holds down a rhythm. For the most part, this sounds like film music -- which is to say, taken outside of its context and divorced from its images, this music doesn't sound like much all by itself. The press release for the Chelsea Walls soundtrack compares Tweedy's score to Neil Young's music for Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, a comparison that's all too apt -- like Dead Man, Chelsea Walls will be of interest to fans of the composer, but it's hard to imagine even completists pulling this off the shelf very often after a couple of listens. Better to buy Tweedy's album with experimental musician Jim O'Rourke, or Wilco's groundbreaking Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
feat: Robert Sean Leonard