Though not as flamboyantly good as its predecessor, this second volume of Woodie Guthrie via Wilco is still solid on the whole. “Airline to Heaven” is a ramshackle highlight right off the bat in the mode of devil-may-care Dylan, while the deeply somber and moving “Remember the Mountain Bed” is one of my favorite Wilco moments in their entire catalog. Natalie Merchant returns, as well, and delivers another standout performance in “I Was Born.”
The other guest vocalist on “Vol. II” doesn’t fare as well. Corey Harris’ reggae twist on “Against Th’ Law” marks the beginning of a four-song run where this disc goes awry. Bragg brings it back together, though, with haunting penultimate track “Black Wind Blowing” that’s as good as any of his songs from these sessions.
Overall, the “Mermaid Avenue” project was a brilliant sidestep for Wilco. Going back to these tracks this month makes me wonder why they aren’t on more of a regular rotation, because many are among the band’s best work.
Favorite Track: “Remember the Mountain Bed”
Least Favorite Track: “Against Th’ Law”