Reviews

Cassadaga

04/10/2007 | Syracuse Daily Orange | www.dailyorange.com | Album Review
Comparisons to Bob Dylan always follow Conor Oberst and his band, Bright Eyes, despite how off-base they might be. Oberst's voice sounds nothing like Dylan's, and his music is more influenced by Gram Parsons and Robert Smith than Bobby D. Still, as long as the association persists, it's worth looking into. If Oberst is "The Next Dylan," then "Cassadaga" is his "Nashville Skyline," an album that improves his music by fully embracing a country aesthetic but is held back by unevenness.

On "Cassadaga," Oberst shows the boundless potential he began to display with 2002's "Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground." On that album, Oberst reflects on religion, love, politics and his own place in the musical spectrum. However, on "Cassadaga" the music stands out instead of the lyrics.

"Four Winds" is a heavy-handed treatise on religion, but Oberst's willingness to make the song a fun fiddle-laden sing-along prevents it from being weighed down by its subject matter. "Make a Plan to Love Me" is perhaps the simplest song he has ever written, and with soothing violins, flutes and background vocals, it's also one of the prettiest.

Even if the music takes center stage on "Cassadaga," Oberst still has a lot on his mind. "Soul Singer in a Session Band" contains the sort of personal admissions listeners have come to expect from him, although it also shows he's willing to play with his image, as when he sings, "I was a hopeless romantic, now I'm just turning tricks." "Lime Tree" is a confused reflection on his girlfriend having an abortion, with him finally taking a walk in the woods and feeling "lost and found with every step I took."

However, "Cassadaga" feels incomplete. "I Must Belong Somewhere" was originally a demo Oberst recorded while he was making 2005's "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning." It's a better song now than it was then, since it is more complex than the original, which consisted of Oberst and an acoustic guitar. Still, it feels as if he ran out of material and had to put it in. Other songs, such as "Classic Cars," "Coat Check Dream Song" and "No One Would Riot For Less" are the sort of ordinary filler that used to be in Bob Dylan's early albums.

As much as Oberst's associations with Dylan have always been considered a compliment, "Cassadaga" points to a comparison that is more troublesome and accurate. After Dylan released "Blonde on Blonde" in 1966, it took nine years before he released another album that was up to the standard he had previously set - "Blood on The Tracks." Like many of the albums Dylan released during the post-"Blonde on Blonde" time period, "Cassadaga" is more artistically advanced than his past efforts, but it feels incomplete. It contains some of Oberst's best work and some of his least interesting. If Oberst really is "The Next Dylan," then it may take him a long time to get out of this phase. Let's hope he's not.
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