Whatever happened I apologize

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Article Reviews

Jay Bennett (rockproper.com, 2008)

Back in the late 1990s, Wilco was the great American rock band, and Jay Bennett was one of its key members. Today Wilco is mostly a rotating cast of sidemen for Jeff Tweedy, and Bennett is a producer, session player, and indie solo artist.

With Wilco, Bennett was famous as a multi-instrumentalist and as the architect of the band’s increasingly experimental sound. But on Whatever Happened I Apologize, his fifth post-Wilco outing, Bennett sticks to subdued acoustic guitar. Only one track even bothers with a drum machine. The simple arrangements emphasize the vocals, and Bennett’s resonant and raspy baritone can handle the scrutiny.

The songs are mostly melodic ruminations over complicated relationships. Only one tune, “Wicked World,” ventures beyond the interpersonal, and it’s the only one Bennett didn’t write.

But this album is as notable for its mode of delivery as for its content. You couldn’t buy it if you tried. It’s only available as a free and legal download at rockproper.com.

This is, of course, just another step in the post-Internet evolution of the music business. Many established artists have begun to realize that the record companies need them more than they need the companies. For instance, last year the British progressive-rock band Radiohead released an album-length download with a price tag of “pay what you like.” Before that, Prince gave away an album on CD as a Sunday insert in a London newspaper. Meanwhile, at the other end of the food chain, the Internet is cluttered with free-for-the-taking work by unknown artists.

Bennett’s case is interesting because he falls squarely in between those two poles. He’s nobody’s superstar, but he is certainly well known enough to get a record company interested in his work. And if he doesn’t think he needs one, then maybe no one does.