Pseudo-supergroup Golden Smog is proof that it's hard to keep a good band low-key. Originally a casual jam session with members of The Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, and Wilco working under assumed names—sort of like an alt-country/power-pop Traveling Wilburys—Golden Smog has since emerged as more than just a spare-time novelty. Though the band's first full-length, Down By The Old Mainstream, was a potent exercise in no-frills country-rock, Weird Tales reveals that even a musical goof-off can develop into a potent band in its own right. With the members of Golden Smog now officially unveiled as Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Dan Murphy (Soul Asylum), Gary Louris and Marc Perlman (The Jayhawks), Kraig Johnson (Run Westy Run), and new drummer Jody Stephens (of power-pop legend Big Star), the gloves have come off. The songs on Weird Tales display all these musicians at the peak of their powers, and Golden Smog, retaining some semblance of its jam-session roots, sounds delightfully liberated from the expectations surrounding the individual members' respective bands. Predictably, the personality of each songwriter shines through, depending on who's doing the singing and songwriting. Louris and Perlman contribute the most songs, with "If I Only Had A Car" and "White Shell Road" serving as the real standouts. Tweedy again indicates that he can do no wrong with "Lost Love" and "Please Tell My Brother," while Murphy's tracks ("To Call My Own" and "Reflections On Me") show how stifled he must feel in the floundering Soul Asylum. Get-togethers like this often sound just as second-tier as one might expect, burdened by unexplored ideas left over from other groups. And since recent efforts by Wilco and The Jayhawks have been pretty eclectic to begin with, you wouldn't necessarily expect much cohesion in a project that mixes both bands. Golden Smog unimpeachably defies these expectations and assumptions, as Weird Tales is a first-rate collaboration that's unified in both vision and spirit.

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