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Cassadaga – Bright Eyes

Saddle Creek 103

One could view Bright Eyes releasing one album this year, rather than a rehash of 2005 when a double shot of material was put out on the same day, as a sign that its leader Conor Oberst is slacking off. But, listening to the expansive work titled Cassadaga string arrangements, extensive samples, a fresh take on the Americana soundscape finds that he, his bandmates and guests, took all the ideas from those two albums and blended them into a cohesive whole on one disc. There’s the loose country feel that was found on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning running through much of the album and, occasionally, a nod to Digital Ash In A Digital Urn (“Coat Check Dream Song”).

The album’s title refers to a central Florida town with its large population of psychics. It opens with a reading that discusses psychic energy locations while a musical background unfolds like the orchestral climax of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” only extended for two minutes. The move could have been edited, but it’s point is that of introduction to the album’s travelogue of musings and encounters that encapsulate the current fragile state of America in addition to the power and support offered by the strings.

“Four Winds,” the first single, offers a slice of alt-country bounce but only its fiddle playing really brings the number musical weight. Its simple movements are endearing but the rest of the 12 tracks give a better indication of a musical world inhabited solely by Oberst and his musical main men, producer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis and trumpet player/pianist Nate Walcott, who also receives major credit for the string flourishes. “Make a Plan to Love Me” has the lush production of a 60s pop number, with Oberst’s trepidation reflected in his quivering voice and nervous lyrics (“make a plan to love me sometime soon”).

Of course, the lyrics remain as integral a part of Bright Eyes sound as the music that accompanies them. While no one wants or deserves the title of the New Dylan, it’s difficult not to think of the purveyor of the Never Ending Tour when the words here conjure up images that relate in unlikely ways. They become a hypnotic flashpoint, as one waits for what’s to arrive on the tip of the next verse. And the ragged feel of the band alludes to Dylan going electric or The Band whipping up its sonic stew at Big Pink with a modern peer being found in Wilco when that band isn’t taking itself too seriously (“If the Brakeman Turns My Way,” “Classic Cars”). The political fervor that drew me to I’m Awake finds itself flush with symbolic shades and colors (“Cleanse Song”). Although that bluntness is missed, the latest chapter in the Bright Eyes saga remains mesmerizing.

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