Nov 152021
johanna samuels ohtis via chicago cover

The longest and most ambitious track on Wilco’s breakout album Summerteeth, “Via Chicago” is both a showcase for that album’s elaborate, sophisticated production and a preview of the weird places Wilco would go on their acclaimed followup, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. For LA singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels’ more traditional cover, she’s joined by country rockers Ohtis, who reunited in 2019 after 15 years, and only then put out their debut album.

Samuels and Ohtis keep the rough shape of the song, though the overall tempo is a little faster and doesn’t shift as much. Samuels and Ohtis lead singer Sam Swinson take it mostly as a duet, with the rest of the band provided comparatively muted instrumentation behind them. Though the arrangement follows the contours of the original, the guitar feedback is much further back in the mix, and the instrumentation doesn’t constantly change.

The ambiguous lyrics – whether they are about drug addiction or a failing relationship – are rendered almost romantic in Samuels’ and Swinson’s delivery. So the interpretation that this song is truly about a love so extreme it could include murder is given a little more weight. It’s a pleasant cover of a song that might be otherwise a little alienating for non-fans.

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