Jay Bennett & Edward Burch The Palace At 4am (Part 1)

This solo debut from Bennett (just given its first official Canadian release) was subject to a lot of scrutiny when it arrived shortly after his ouster from Wilco in 2002. At that time, the very public falling out between Bennett and Jeff Tweedy, as documented in the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, ultimately left the former on the losing end. However, listening to this album again with fresh ears reveals not so much the bitterness that clearly resulted from the split, but a surprising pop sensibility that has steadily been on the decline in Wilco’s work ever since Summerteeth. In fact, Bennett and Burch, who cover most of the instrumentation themselves, seem to overcompensate on the production end as if simply to prove that Summerteeth wasn’t only a Jeff Tweedy masterpiece. Chiming guitars are piled on top of each other endlessly, while Beach Boys-style harmonies and every conceivable bell and whistle appear at all opportune moments. At times, it’s too overwhelming, which in the end is the album’s downfall. Song-wise, Bennett holds his own as a pop craftsman, and most Wilco fans will undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised at his skills, including a touching new version of his major Summerteeth contribution, "My Darling.” While it may still take some time for Bennett to recover both his reputation and ego, The Palace At 4am is a good, if flawed, beginning. (Bent Penny)