Chelsea Walls

REVIEW: Jeff Tweedy “Chelsea Walls”

Reviews

Jeff Tweedy – Chelsea Walls

The 14-cuts on this soundtrack to Ethan Hawke’s 2001 film takes place in NYC’s landmark Chelsea Hotel (1884). The film starred Kris Kristofferson, Uma Thurman, Natasha Richardson & Vincent D’Onofrio.

It chronicled the lives of 5 artists at the hotel. A fan of Wilco, Hawke approached Jeff Tweedy to score the film. Contributions included improvised instrumentals by Tweedy & Glenn Kotche (drummer). With them were producer/musician Jim O’Rourke, vocal performances by Robert Sean Leonard (also in the film), Steve Zahn, Billy Bragg & the band Wilco.

Jazz legend “Little” Jimmy Scott gives a masterful rendition of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” that fits quite appropriately into the scenario. The muted trumpet, Scott’s tonality – sounds like the voice of the walls of the Chelsea Hotel itself. This is one of the finest interpretations of Lennon’s classic I ever heard. It validates the story.

Chelsea Walls (Drops Jan 14–Omnivore) includes 2-bonus tracks & opens with intense instrumentation (“Opening Titles”) typical of a place like the Chelsea Hotel & NYC. A place that housed the likes of hustler Herbert Hunke, Janis Joplin, poet Dylan Thomas, several Beat Generation authors, Edie Sedgwick, Virgil Thompson & so many others. So, in a word, Tweedy had to capture an atmosphere.

Chelsea Walls

Some tunes are quirky, nonetheless well-played — but not reminiscent of soundtracks of yesteryear. To be fair, some melodies probably adhere more firmly to the scene in the film where they’re applied. Wilco performs “Promising,” & is a pleasantly expressive ballad. Billy Bragg & Wilco add “When the Roses Bloom Again.” Not typically a Manhattan-type tune but it works.

Like many soundtracks, except for strong overtures, songs out of context with the film may not resonate until a listener sees the film & makes a connection. Many instrumentals are pleasant but are snippets of ideas, incidental music. If a listener takes the time to see the film the soundtrack will enliven, strengthen itself.

This isn’t a Wilco CD. There are moments of vivid melodies, some repetitious playing & some cool explorations that cling to the high walls & long Chelsea staircase.

Perhaps more of a metropolitan feel to the melodies would’ve fleshed out the NYC ambiance more succinctly. Only Little Jimmy Scott’s performance brought that home. The effort by Tweedy & crew is admirable since it’s not easy to write a soundtrack. What they didn’t focus on were pieces named for characters: only Frank (D’Onofrio) & the Wallman had music named for them. Little Jimmy Scott was Skinny Bones, a young lady named Lorna Doone, someone named Crutches. These were great song titles. This film was about what the characters are.

Closing is a rich, John Fahey-type acoustic end credits instrumental (#12 & #13). Memorable. The CD includes a 16pp color stitched insert. Liner notes by Ethan Hawke & an interview (Tweedy & Ms. Pawelski). Reissue produced: Cheryl Pawelski. B&W photo by Squire Fox. The 1 hour & 16-minute CD @ Amazon & http://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/chelsea-walls/

 

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