Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....
If you saw Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst play just a few years ago, you probably figured his chances at mainstream stardom were more or less nil. His songs were too anxious, damaged and dark for radio. His records were released on a tiny label based out of a corn town in a who-cares flyover state. His stage presence was too haunted and self-conscious for big audiences.
But as 2004 hits its middle mark, Oberst has - as he sings on "One Foot in Front of the Other" - done his share of dancing with the "devils of fame." His songs are on the radio, TV shows and MTV. His label, Saddle Creek (based in Omaha, Neb.), has gotten coverage from biggies like the New York Times and the Associated Press wire service. And Oberst has transformed from a misunderstood, wraithlike underground folky to one of the biggest names in rock.
Lately, Oberst's been writing protest songs with perspective, clarity and sinewy prose. His hypercritical screeds are a mix of wary-eyed Woody Guthrie and Carl Sandburgian poetic outcry, with a little of Neil Young's druggy romanticism smoothing out the edges.
Bright Eyes' next record, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," is set for release in early 2005.
Depending on how you look at it, the Eagles either ruined country music or yanked it up to new heights with their glitzy, empty-eyed "Cocaine Cowboy" period. During My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James' half-hour set, expect part countrified Eagles and part Beach Boys, which translates to mellow, shuffling country rock with an embittered but hopeful view of the world.
My Morning Jacket's new record, "Acoustic Gitsuoca," is in stores now.
On "End of Amnesia," his best album, Portland-based singer-songwriter M. Ward gives us his take on the great American back-porch summer song. The ballads conjure ruddy, blood-orange sundowns and shambled decks half-obscured by thick weeds and grass.
Acoustic guitars are quiet and brushing. Sparser song moments are filled with ghostly, toothless mumbles of Appalachian banjos, tinkling sad piano and Ward's baby-gruff whisperings above it all.
Ward recently toured behind his new album, "The Transfiguration of Vincent," and is also a regular member of Bright Eyes' current lineup.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3