There's more to the critically respected band Wilco's affable alt-country than one might suspect. Under the surface lie the talents of musicians who stretch out adventurously with their own projects. Among them is L.A.-based guitarist Nels Cline.
Though the pop audience is only recently familiar with Cline because of his guitar work in Wilco since 2004, he's been busy for two decades building a massive resume, equally at home in the realms of jazz (Charlie Haden), avant-rock (Thurston Moore, Mike Watt) and roots (Carla Bozulich of Geraldine Fibbers). With percussionist Gregg Bendian, Cline reinterpreted John Coltrane's monumental "Interstellar Space."
Cline always helmed his own groups, such as the Nels Cline Trio, whose debut 7-inch "Lady Speed Stick" blew minds in 1991 with its melding of free jazz and Slint-era math-rock. That merging of fringe styles morphed into the Nels Cline Singers, his current trio featuring bassist Devin Hoff and Charlie Hunter's versatile drummer Scott Amendola.
Their third album, "Draw Breath," could be retitled "Show Breadth" for clearly indicating the wide range of influence and experience which Cline expertly mines. The poignant, dark dirge of "Caved-In Heart Blues" is followed by an intense free-improv workout on "Attempted." The Minutemen art-punk blasts of "Confection" lead into extended sections of crushing doom-metal heaviness and battering swirls of sculptural noise and twittering electronics on "An Evening at Pops' "(a reference to Amendola recently becoming a father).
He moves in mellow circles as well, eliciting strummy folk lushness on "The Angel of Angels" and a pair of lounge-jazz lick-a-thons both called "Recognize." Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche even joins the fray on the protean closer "Squirrel of God." With a track record spanning more than 100 albums, it seems there's no style, whether "in" or "out," that Cline can't master, which is probably why Rolling Stone dubbed him a "guitar god." Those who haven't discovered Cline's name yet should consider approaching the altar.