Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Greg
01/29/2005 | | | Album Review
Bright Eyes is Conor Oberst, indie folk heartthrob, and whoever is around when he's recording. As his popularity soared after the 2002 release of his sprawling epic Lifted..., the small town ensemble was forced to the backseat. Family and friends were replaced with marquee names, and the epic roughness was divided and conquered into two albums, each polished and neatly categorized. On the folk album of the dual release, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, Bright Eyes avoids the pitfalls of fame and popularity, offering some of his best lyrics and stripped down singer/songwriter sound yet.
Conor has an amazing voice, one that begs you to comfort him and feed him drinks in the same quavering line. The ten songs comprising the album feature numerous collaborators, some of which work better than others. I'm Wide Awake... starts off with a narrative of plane crash victims final drinks leading into the the ringing At The Bottom Of Everything. Conor's voice cracks and weaves its way through dramatic imagery, joining with My Morning Jacket's Jim James on such lyrics as "While my mother waters plants my father loads his gun." This works so well that it's almost heartbreaking, especially considering how little the esteemed Emmylou Harris contributes to the three tracks she guests on.
The reworking of the song One Foot In Front Of The Other from the Saddle-Creek 50 record (here titled Land Locked Blues) is a painful dismembering of a terrific song that illustrates just how incompatible their two voices together are. The trumpet and keyboard heavy We Are Nowhere And It's Now manages to work Emmylou in to the advantage of the song, but for the most part it seems that Conor was blinded by the weight of Harris' name and let her subpar contributions taint two tracks.
Bright Eyes is at its best when focused on Conor and his acoustic, like the first single Lua, which shines as brightly as the moon, its namesake. Other standout tracks included the finale, a modern big band meets punk reworking of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, and Train Under Water, a miniature novella of New York City life put to the sad strums of a guitar.  A total of fifteen people performed on this record, and yet it still feels as intimate as an forlorn glance from a solitary subway rider. Bright Eyes reigns in the anything goes mentality found on previous releases, focuses the intensity of a shorter set of songs, makes some missteps along the way, but still produces another beautiful and brilliant album.