On their sixth and most straightforwardly clean album, Nebraska's Bright Eyes once again integrate a revolving cast of players to the mix, including Portland tunesmith M. Ward and alt-country queen Gillian Welch. But the band remains at the helm of forever-wunderkind Conor Oberst, and the fruitful songwriter has one-upped 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
with a proficient and accessible ensemble of expansive pop orchestrations and ornate folk songs that chronicle his traverses across the American panorama. Oberst's voice quakes and wanders through South Dakota lore and Sunshine State chicanery, always the perfect vehicle for his threadbare lyrics. "Take the fruit from the tree/Break the skin with your teeth/Is it bitter or sweet/All depends on your timing," he forewarns in "Cleanse Song," a psychedelic merry-go-round of a soundtrack that joins the Scottish-tinged "Soul Singer in a Session Band" and singalong single "Four Winds" as Cassadaga
's finest. The 13-song-record is certain to open more doors for a band whose recognition has soared with every release since Oberst was just 14. --Scott Holter
Conor Oberst is still a very young man. It's worth remembering this as on Bright Eyes' seventh album he seems to have used the psychic community namechecked in the title to channel some very old souls indeed. While lazy journalists like to rank him next to Dylan or Costello, there's more at work here. This is an album that relishes its settings and arrangements as much as its lyrical concerns. Just check the cover! It's more a Gesmantkunstwerk, if you will.
Along with multi-instrumental pals Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott both playing up to ten instruments and a cast of seemingly thousands to bolster this sound, Cassadaga is very much part of that new Americana movement that includes all bands from Lambchop to Wilco via Sufjan Stevens: Self-critical and yet still in love with its heritage and unafraid of using every musical tool inherent in said heritage. Prog Americana.
Oberst also shares Kurt Wagner and Jeff Tweedy's indie lyrical obtuseness which is now lingua franca for all budding commentators of the land of the free. It seems safe to say that a song like 'Four Winds' addresses the wrongness of war in all its guises, but mostly Conor's words seem to use his own experience to nail a particular feeling. It's all so remarkably assured while being as tricky and hidden as the images on this exquisitely packaged album. As mentioned before, this is a young man who sings of creative redundancy in 'Soul Singer In A Session Band' or rehab in 'Cleanse Song'.
But in all this he still has time for good old-fashioned love song. Even if they are essentially thinly-veiled kiss-offs to former girlfriends and lovers such as 'Classic Cars' and 'Make A Plan To Love Me'. Of course, Oberst's gift is the drop-dead melody, here couched in lush country stylings. He could sing the phone book in that mid-western tone and get away with it. It may be a little too parochial for the UK mass market, but it's head and shoulders above those clinging to the old band methodology. Goodness knows how good he'll be when he reaches 30. --Chris Jones
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