Reviews

Old Blood

Author: A.K. Gold
5/6/2002 | Flagpole | Album Review
Mayday Includes Omaha Songwriter Ted Stevens Reborn And Refreshed

Before Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos frontman Conor Oberst was labeled a "wunderkind" and before Time was writing articles about Saddle Creek Records and Omaha's burgeoning rock scene, there was a songwriter named Ted Stevens and a multi-instrumental folk rock outfit called Lullaby For The Working Class.
Over the course of three ambitious and sometimes transcendent full length records, Lullaby For The Working Class crafted textured soundscapes and set (and often met) increasingly high self-imposed expectations for its recordings. After four years of constant writing, recording and touring, however, Stevens reached a breaking point.

"Someone's identity as a songwriter can become very confused after months and months of touring and promotion," he says.

Following the band's final release, 1999's Song (Bar None), the members of Lullaby scattered to different parts of the country. Stevens, though, remained in Omaha and took up duties as the second guitarist in the rock band Cursive. He struggled with writing songs and found a supportive network in his bandmates.

"When I joined the band and became part of that family, they really nurtured my songwriting and helped me get back into it," he says. "I've spent the last two years playing a lot of guitar, really focusing on music and being a player, and trying to be a part of a band and not so focused on being a songwriter. I think [now] I'm just a little more limber, in the mind and in the hands."

Stevens and company, collectively known as Mayday, now offer up their first record, Old Blood (Saddle Creek). The album's 10 tracks (plus two that are hidden in the space preceding track one) date their existence as far back as Mayday's first show five years ago.

To flesh out the songs, Stevens, along with co-writer and drummer Patrick Oakes, called on the talented musicians of Lullaby and many of their Saddle Creek compatriots. And though it was a process that took many years and much planning, Stevens believes the extended period of time before getting the chance to record was a positive thing.

"I stuck to my guns and waited for my turn, as far as production goes. I believe now that the project was delayed because, honestly, we weren't ready for it."

Filled with mandolins and strings - sine waves of sampled nuance along with Stevens' warm and smoky voice - much of Old Blood brings to mind his earlier work with Lullaby. Tracks like the somber sea shanty "Captain," the Flamenco-tinged "Confession" (which features the vocals of that wunderkind Conor Oberst) and the folky strum and sing "Rebirthing" best represent how his songwriting abilities have expanded.

A little wiser, a little better musician, Ted Stevens hasn't lost his ability to capture emotion poetically and convey it sonically. And while Time articles have come and gone, Stevens' take on the folk rock songs remains as unusual and compelling as ever.
Old Blood

Old Blood

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