Reviews

To The Races

Author: Charles Coxe
08/22/2006 | Giantmag.com | www.giantmag.com | Album Review
From the first gentle, finger-picked acoustic notes of his new album To the Races, former Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers frontman Eric Bachmann signals that this, his first true solo album, is a departure from the walls of sound he's created in the past. Not that Bachmann hasn't walked the acoustic path before: After four studio albums, the hard-edged Archers of Loaf split up in 1999, and Bachmann put together a much softer act with Crooked Fingers, using acoustic guitar, violin, cello, banjo, and piano to create songs that were quieter yet still as lush as anything he's done before—if a bit easier to listen to while wrapped around a bottle of whiskey, alone, in the dark.

Now after four Crooked Fingers albums, Bachmann has changed his tune again, moving further from the anger of his early days deeper into the despair and loneliness he explored with his last act. Appropriately, he wrote this album while living out of the back of his van in the Pacific Northwest and recorded it in a lonely hotel room out on his native North Carolina's Outer Banks; the resulting desolation and sense of reflection permeates almost every track, enhanced by the simple yet beautiful arrangements of guitar plus a single other instrument—in one track a few notes of piano, in another violin or harmonica, and subdued, almost choral backing vocals.

On first listen, particularly if you're in the mood for something more upbeat, a few of the songs can run together a bit. But in quieter moments more than a couple tracks stand out as pretty damn close to musical perfection: The bitter farewell of "So Long, Savannah," the patient love of "Little Bird," and the bluesy roll of "Genie, Genie" are particular gems.

Bachmann has received his share of comparisons to Bruce Springsteen over the years (only enhanced by his brilliant cover of Springsteen's "The River" a few years back), so it's only natural that this album be compared to Springsteen's Nebraska, and favorably so. These are songs that evoke a wide, empty landscape, although rather than the plains they touch on Bachmann's perpetual obsession with the power and emptiness of the ocean. As Bachmann said of this recording process, "I remember having a real clear mind when I was writing because I was living in my van at the time and have a rule that if I live in the van I'm not allowed to drink, for a number of reasons. I remember feeling really good and free, without any burdens or major responsibilities, and I remember feeling more lonesome than I would have liked, which wasn't so good. I think maybe those two things poke their heads out and dance a lot both together and separately through a few, if not all, of the songs."

As always, a highlight of Bachmann's work is his lyricism, and To the Races doesn't disappoint. When he sings on the opening track, Like the moon doesn't mind if the sun doesn't shine, the sea doesn't care if you're lonesome tonight; like the love that she gives condescendingly tries in its way to comfort you, there's so little to distract from his lyrics' message that they hit harder than ever before.

After walking a career path from anger to loss to despair that somehow avoided the clichés that almost always accompany those topics, Bachmann has now managed to craft quiet songs of solitude tinged with hope, and come off as brutally honest rather than sappy. It's a difficult task, and one that definitely deserves a listen.
To The Races

To The Races

CD / MP3