Joshua James – Crash This Train

Further to my post from earlier this week here’s another splendid track by Joshua James. I can’t really decide which version I do like better, the full-band one or the acoustic version, which one do you prefer? As for the ‘videos’, I love the photo of a train on the prairie (acoustic version), naturally (make sure you turn on the full-screen view to get the best possible experience out of that photo).

Bright Eyes : Coyote Song

While doing research for my previous post, a review of Bright Eyes’ 2007 album Cassadaga (see here) I found out about Coyote Song. It’s a statement of support and part of Sound Strike, an artist cooperative taking a stand against Arizona Law SB1070, to learn more about it check:

This is an excellent piece of work – acute in context, both beautifully and hauntingly executed, both with regards to the music and video treatment.

Bright Eyes : Cassadaga

Bright Eyes Cassadaga album cover

Leave the bright blue door on the whitewashed wall

Leave the death ledger under City hall

Leave the joyful air in that rubber ball today

Leave the lilac print on the linen sheet

Leave the bird you killed at your father’s feet

Leave the sideways rain in the crooked street remain


Leave the whimpering dog in its cold kennel

Leave the dead starlet on her pedestal

Leave the acid kids in their green fishbowls today


Leave the sad guitar in its hardshell case

Leave the worried look on your lover’s face

Let the orange embers in the fireplace remain


Everything it must belong somewhere

A train off in the distance, bicycle chained to the stairs

Everything it must belong somewhere

I know that now, that’s why I’m staying here …


I Must Belong Somewhere (excerpt)


The lines quoted above are just the most amazing of many exceptional lyrics to be found on Cassadaga and I can’t help being utterly captivated by them when listening to the song. I always knew that Conor Oberst was something special with regards to his lyrical abilities (I have been following his work for a long time – actually since their first EP Every Day And Every Night), but with many of the lyrics found on Cassadaga he more than proves what he is capable of. Actually, it was even evident on some of his early bedroom recordings, some of which date back to as early as 1995 when he was very young, and which were released later on CD and as part of a lavish 7-LP boxset spanning the years from 1997-2001 (which I am the proud owner of). But the lyrics quoted above really top everything he’s written before in my opinion. A simple but wise idea, poetically and beautifully expressed, with images I can picture only too well in my mind. The haiku style seasonal references, ‘Leave the autumn leaves in their swimming pool’, ‘Let the sideways rain in the crooked street remain’ work equally wonderful. The music to the song is a rolling, upbeat and uptempo country shuffle is excellent too, and the 6+ minutes length of the song further adds to the hypnotic quality of the song.

Cassadaga is a mighty fine album all round, with the exception of maybe 2 or 3 only slightly weaker songs (Lime Tree, Make A Plan To Love Me). There are many excellent tracks on there, in a wide variety of tempos, instrumentation and moods. A plethora of instruments is used on most tracks so it wouldn’t be wrong to call the album lavishly produced.

Much to my liking of course, the prevailing stylistic influences on Cassadega are Folk and Country (in comparison to Bright Eyes’ latest album The People’s Key which sounds distinctly more modern). On tracks such as Make A Plan To Love Me, Cleanse Song and No One Would Riot For Less there are also chamber music and Neo-Classical influences to be heard. That said, it’s only natural that the songs displaying those Country-Rock sounds most prominently, such as If the Brakeman Turns My Way, Four Winds, Classic Cars, Soul Singer In A Session Band, are among my favorite tracks on here.

I also have to quote some more of the amazing and profound lyrics from the album, this time from If The Brakeman Comes My Way. As I have said before, they are a huge part of what makes the album as outstandingly good as it is in my opinion.

‘When panic grips your body and your heart is a hummingbird Raven thoughts blacken your mind until you’re breathing in reverse

All your friends and sedatives mean well but make it worse Every reassurance just magnifies the doubt

Better find yourself a place to level out…’

and a bit later in the song

‘…first a mother bathes her child then the other way around The scales always find a way to level out…’

Musically, the track is gorgeous as well – like a couple of the songs on here not without leaning towards the bombastic side a little bit – that’s not normally a characteristic I would use to describe music I like all too often, but on here it’s fitting and not at all bad. Just the opposite, it works very very well in each of the songs fitting that description (Soul Singer In A Session Band, Classic Cars, No One Would Riot For Less).

Middleman is brilliant too, although there are many instruments featured too, in contrast to most other tracks on here, it sounds rather sparsely arranged with a light and airy sound. It also features one of the best uses of bongos I have ever heard, an instrument I normally hold little affection for. Cleanse Song is a rather the simple, but maybe exactly because of that, highly affecting and wonderful Folk and chamber-music influenced song getting its special appeal from a variety of woodwinds and a lap steel guitar used that make it sound utterly pretty – in a good way. Four Winds sounds breezy, easy going and is heavily dominated by violin and a mandolin – and the lyrics are among the most astounding on the album too. The somber, orchestral No One Would Riot For Less is amazing too, starting with only an acoustic guitar and vocals but later developing a steady build up of tension (and pure gorgeousness) which does find its release with a crescendo of strings, lovely female voices and a gorgeous pedal steel guitar, and an ending mirroring the start of the song most wonderfully.

Cassadaga is probably the highpoint of Conor Oberst’s and Bright Eyes’ career so far for me (and he’s only in his mid-30’s), but I will most probably regret that statement the next time I listen to the band’s 2000 album Fevers And Mirrors or I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning from 2005.

Joshua James – Doctor Oh Doctor

A new discovery through Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids (where he’s playing on the 16th of this month) for me, although he’s been around since 2007 and did release his most recent album back in 2012. Haven’t got that yet but I will be writing about it on here in the near future I guess. This track is splendid and lovely.


Richard Buckner : Bloomed

 Richard Buckner Bloomed album cover jpeg


It’s been 20 years since Bloomed was originally released on German label Glitterhouse Records. It became, at least for me, an integral part of the Alternative Country music experience. 20 years later I still count it as one of the very best. On top of my head I can only count Uncle Tupelo’s March 16-20, 1992 as having a similar profound impact on my life as a music lover and being quite as excellent as well as related in sound, from that period.

Fast forward to March 2014 and the album is re-released on Buckner’s current label home Merge Records, bless them for it. Haven’t got that release (yet!), but I hope that some of you reading and not knowing what I am talking about, will possible be encouraged to check it out (it’s even released on vinyl, all you vinyl buffs out there).

Let me tell you, you are in for a hell of a treat. Some of the facts first. At the time living in San Francisco and playing in a band called The Doubters, Buckner recorded this album in Lubbock and Austin, TX with producer Llyoyd Maines and a bunch of artists that Maines recruited, Texas music legend Butch Hancock amongst them. To say these musicians and their contributions are merely the icing on the cake would be both wrong and right. Right, because, as the 5 bonus tracks (also included on the Merge re-release) on the 1999 Rykodisc/Slow River re-release I am writing about here, attest to, show, that none of the 12 tracks on the original album would be something short of brilliant without them. Wrong because they are absolutely stunning and outstanding. (Almost) exclusively acoustic instruments, no drums (just a tiny bit of percussion) add to the airy, open and crystal clear sound, with Buckner’s striking (once heard, never forgotten) Californian drawl that is very well suited to the music found on here.

To call it Alternative Country is maybe a little bit misleading but it’s certainly not straight, old-fashioned Country either. It’s very hard to name personal faves on here – I love all of the 17 songs on here, really. The range of different moods encountered on Bloomed range from the dark, brooding and slow (22, Mud, This Is Where), to the lively, uptempo songs, such as Daisychain and Rainsquall and everything in between. Buckner’s excellent acoustic guitar work is always featured prominent in the mix, but as I said before, the cast of aces accompanying him add a whole lot to making the album as great as it is too. Take Surprise, AZ, featuring some exquisite harmonica by Butch Hancock and a Dobro by Lloyd Maines alongside Buckner’s acoustic guitar and what you get is one of the best and loveliest songs I have ever heard. Album opener Blue And Wonder is augmented to fine effect by Joe Carr’s mandolin, Rainsquall features a what I suppose to be slightly distorted and quite loud pedal steel guitar to rather dramatic, but well suited to the lyrics of the song, effect.

To mention all of the great contributions Lloyd Maines adds to Bloomed would be very cumbersome indeed, but as he is well-known musician I hope some of you know what he is capable of – being not intimately acquainted with his work I would say he outclassed himself on here (feel free to correct me).

Also adding to considerably to  Bloomed’s quality are Buckner’s lyrics. Although they are mainly about personal matters and relationships, both imagined and experienced, but when listening to the album I have to say I’m taking a long road trip in my mind. Imagining it starting in California and ending in Texas you probably get the right idea of what I’m talking about.

Sights and people encountered in small, modest towns on a long drive (The Last Ride) and during a rainstorm on the highway (Rainsquall) while thinking about a woman in a ‘Gauzy Dress In The Sun’. Perhaps it’s indicative of the American psyche of having time to think about you, your own little world and the people inhabiting it while being on the road is what the album’s lyrics are all about. They contribute a whole lot to Bloomed’s appeal for me.

It’s a real shame that Richard Buckner’s career has been so fragmented and never lived up to the things promised on this album – I pretty much lost track of his work after 1998’s Since. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s supposedly not being very easy to work with preventing him having a stable working relationship with some people, musicians and label-wise, that would be befitting for his music and career. But that’s pure speculation on my part and he’s worked with Merge Records for the last 10 years so I may be wrong.

In any case, Bloomed is an utterly fabulous album, and my words cannot begin to adequately describe its class and certainly not how much I adore it.