This is a quite splendid album, the kind that only comes along every 3-4 years or so, the kind that re-ignites your interest in music when you thought all was lost, the kind that for a while seems nothing short of perfection. It really is that good.
Let's get the criticisms out of the way first. There really is nothing new here - yes it does sound like a Dylan and the Band pastiche in places - but when has this ever been a bad thing? The playing is also very loose, even slapdash, but this is also part of the appeal -it all feels very natural, very right, like the band just sat down and played the songs through for their own pleasure, and hey, somebody recorded it! This is so refreshingly different in the era of ProTools (though no doubt it was subtly tweaked).
The great strength of the album is undoubtedly the quality of the songwriting. The songs have a timeless quality which makes you think even on first playing that you've heard them before, and Ian Felice is a lyric writer on this evidence to rival Dylan or even Morrissey's mastery of the humourous couplet. It's one big grin from start to finish basically, and I love it.
Picking stand-outs is difficult, but I do like Frankie's Gun, Wonderful Life, and the rather strange Helen Fry. This track has a different vibe to the rest of the album - more Burlesque than Band - a sort of Tom Waits plays Howard Devoto plays The Specials early Eighties melodrama, splendid stuff.
Anyway, there it is - a life affirming, one to keep, top drawer record, easily, easily the best thing released in 2008. Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, for all their strengths, are not even close. Buy two copies because you'll want to give one to your best friend.