The initial appeal was obvious: His songs brimmed with ambition and enthusiasm; his performances were volatile and somewhat precious; he dated Winona Ryder; and coming up behind him were nearly a dozen other Omaha outfits, each one destroying Heartland stereotypes and exploring different avenues — a novelty for a "scene."
But it wasn't long before Oberst was trying to outrun his age, putting together complicated albums littered with notebook scrawlings. Despite grounding himself in the anti-war movement during the Iraq war buildup, he unveiled his tour de force in early 2005: two albums released simultaneously, one of which was an abrasive, electro-folk struggle that required its own tour.
Skeptics seemed ready to rally when word leaked Cassadaga not only featured the usual suspects like Mike Mogis and Maria Taylor, but Oberst was cherrypicking Chicago standbys like Rachael Yamagata and John McEntire. Others on the list included Janet Weiss (drumming with the band this summer), Ben Kweller, and Gillian Welch, and suddenly there were the makings of one of the great '70s coke-fueled blowouts.
There is some of that on Cassadaga, but mostly it's the feel of The Last Waltz. Cassadaga's joyous bounce comes not from Oberst proper, whose warble is an effective destabilizer, but the "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" stomp of lead single "Four Winds" (even as it admonishes world religion for the state we're in). He's clearly in political mode (invoking Babylon in two of the first three songs), but with a full band bearing down on him he can't not be swept in the momentum. "Hot Knives" teasingly opens with blown-speaker rumbling a la Digital Ash In A Digital Urn but explodes forth in an endless stream of fireworks. Oddly, the least propulsive track is titled "No One Would Riot For Less," which casually infers all of the day's atrocities are simply fate's way of telling us we're on the way out.
Oberst is assuredly on the way up.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3