While a nation rocked its shaggy head to the sound of grunge-rock in the '90s, Minneapolis songwriter Dan Wilson kept a torch lit for sweetly sung, beautifully melodic pop songs as part of the trio Semisonic, scoring a top-10 hit in 1998 with "Closing Time." The band's well-crafted 2001 album All About Chemistry was a commercial fizzle, and Semisonic went into limbo; though the group is still officially together, the members are all off working on their own projects. Wilson went on to win a Grammy for co-writing Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready To Make Nice," and spent years working on a solo album, Free Life. Executive-produced by Rick Rubin and released on his American Recordings label, the album boasts several big-name guests including Sheryl Crow, The Jayhawks' Gary Louris, and Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins. But the star of the show here is Wilson's remarkable instinct for creating gorgeous songs, and his unabashed, obvious joy in doing so. For anyone worried that songcraft is an endangered species, Free Life should ease those fears.

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