This box set comprises some 77 songs, pushes the 5 hour mark and retails for a price that all other artists and bands should try to emulate when releasing old or unreleased material. This is very much the story of Jeff Tweedy who emerged burnt from the split of Uncle Tupelo one of the founders of the Alt Country movement and the junior partner to Jay Farrar as the guiding force in that band. Tweedy however had his own musical vision and at the age of 28 set out on the Wilco journey that has produced eight full albums over twenty years including a number of bonafide classics.
The music on "Alpha Mike Foxtrot" is set out in narrative order although the output post 2007's "Sky Blue Sky" is light on the ground. This is understandable as Tweedy himself admits that 2011’s The Whole Love, "was taken for granted a little bit, not necessarily by critics, maybe by ourselves." The early music is fascinating particularly a fragile demo of "Someone else's song" later to appear on "Being There" and a sterling country cover of Neil Young's "Burned". The set is also infused with plenty of live material with the laid-back and spare mid west ballads like "Forget the Flowers" figuring strongly plus a interesting acoustic live take on "I got you at the end of the century". When it comes to a number of the "Summerteeth" contributions the more stripped back versions of "She's a jar" and "A shot in the arm" are hardly essential in comparison to the originals, although the gorgeous cover of Steely Dan's "Any Major Dude will tell you" from this same period is one of the highlights of the entire set.
Perhaps if there is a disappointment it is that the bands masterpiece "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is somewhat under represented perhaps reflecting the sensitivity around the sad death of Jay Bennet and not wishing to resurrect the awful tension of that recording? Thankfully the presence of the glorious Beatles-esque "Cars can't escape" which was offered at the time as a free Wilcoworld.net Roadcase download for owners of album fully confirms that it could have easily been included on the album. The follow up "Ghost is Born" is better represented in particular with a storming live version of that albums signature song "Spiders (Kidsmoke)". The distance here from Tweedy's alt country roots to a song approaching Krautrock could not be further. Other noteworthy reference points include a stunning Nels Cline guitar workout on a live version of "Impossible Germany" from the massively underrated "Sky Blue Sky". Also included is the darker and more experimental precursor to this song namely "Unlikely Japan".
All in all "Alpha Mike Foxtrot" is a very worthy enterprise. It is a warts an all collection and Tweedy in the excellent liner notes does an honest evaluation of some of the tracks describing one as a "dated mess". Overall this is more a sweeping up exercise than the release of anything startling locked in the vaults. Yet it serves a purpose to remind you that the very best bands are not seeking top twenty glory. Wilco have a huge following in the states and lesser so in the UK. To those who have tracked them over the past twenty years they have rewarded with some of the most original and ground breaking music of those decades. If the band had split after "A Ghost is born" they would have been hailed as one of the greatest ever, yet who knows what is to come with these master musicians?
Review by Red on Black