Ex-Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett’s highly publicized ouster from that band (after he had co-written the music for eight of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s 11 tracks and shared engineering duties) constituted one of the uglier aspects of last year’s Wilco/Reprise debacle. To his credit, Bennett seems to have put aside any bitterness and, collaborating with Chicago songwriter Edward Burch, made the more traditional but no less lovely Wilco album he may have envisioned all along. A couple of good tracks here — "Shakin’ Sugar" and "Venus Stopped the Train" — were written with Jeff Tweedy and said to be slated for inclusion on Foxtrot before the bottom fell out. And Wilco members past and present (sans Tweedy) lend a hand on both.
In keeping with the spirit of his old band’s Mermaid Avenue recordings, Bennett even sets new music to old Woody Guthrie lyrics and comes up with a couple of keepers: "Little White Cottage" and "No Church Tonite." Elsewhere, he indulges his jones for Elvis Costello ("Whispers or Screams") and sunny ’60s-era pop tweaked with such period instruments as Wurlitzer electric keyboard, Mellotron, and electric sitar. Burch’s close harmonies and looming baritone, cultivated during his occasional stints with the Handsome Family, serve as a moody counterpart to Bennett’s agreeably rough-hewn vocals. Like 4 a.m., the hour when night gives way to dawn, Palace marks not a bitter end but a bright new beginning.