Dan Wilson found himself staring into the business end of the Recording Academy's highest honor last February, when the august body declared 2006's best song to be none other than the Wilson-penned Dixie Chicks snubber "Not Ready to Make Nice." But even if the glitz of the red carpet had never beckoned the former Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare frontman, he would still be a shoo-in for this award—which isn't nearly the backhanded compliment it sounds like (honest). Wilson's Grammy may just cast some light into the shadows of his previous bands, especially Semisonic, whose history reads like any night at the bar: If you stopped at "Closing Time," you missed the best stuff. But unlike that little gilded Victrola, our humble offering serves to recognize not the man's foggy past but his bright future: namely, a long-overdue solo album and the wave of live performances it will surely incite. Partly produced by Rick Rubin, allegedly titled Free Life, and tentatively slated for release in 2007, the record has but one concrete certainty: It's Wilson's white whale. As such, bits and pieces surface regularly. The minor-key stomper "Baby Doll" and the heartrending ballad "All Kinds," both leaked online, indicate that his voice is tender as ever and his lyrics are even better. His songcraft, meanwhile, sounds streamlined, to the point where every strummed chord conjures goosebumps. Semisonic was never this good.