Back Road Bound’s Favorite Songs Of 2014

To wrap up the year 2014 I made a mix with some of my most-loved songs released this year.

Follow the link below to hear them on Mixcloud

The Tracklist:

Willie Dunn : I Pity The Country (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Sun Kil Moon : Jim Wise (from Benji)

Conor Oberst : Night At Lake Unknown (from Upside Down Mountain)

Willy Mitchell : Call Of The Moose (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Luther Dickinson : Bar Band (from Rock’n’Roll Blues)

Hard Working Americans : Straight To Hell (from Hard Working Americans)

Wes Tirey : Come Home (The End Is Near Blues) (from O, Annihilator)

John Angaiak : Hey, Hey, Hey, Brother (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Lucinda Williams : Burning Bridges (from Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone)

Joe Henry : Grave Angels (from Invisible Hour)

Carrie Elkin & Danny Schmidt : Sky Picked Blue (from For Keeps)

Groupe Folklorique Montagnais : Tshekuan Mak Tshetutamak (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Conor Oberst : Upside Down Mountain

Conor Oberst Upside Down Mountain Cover Jpeg

Conor Oberst : Upside Down Mountain

(2014 Nonesuch Records)


That Conor Oberst is held in very high regard round these parts should come as no surprise (see here , here or here). Having been following his career right from the beginning it is clear he’s come a long way but stayed true to himself at the same time. Upside Down Mountain is his first album for Nonesuch and the first (to me knowledge) that he’s worked with Jonathan Wilson who is famed for his 60’s Country-Rock style. I am not intimately familiar with Mr. Wilson’s work, but what I am hearing on here confirms my suspicions that he is perhaps a bit too full of himself, as some of the arrangements on the album sound a tad too much faux-60’s Country/Folk-Rock for my liking. I mean, I like 60’s Country-Rock (a lot), but sounding too much like that nowadays, I don’t know it just sounds a bit cheesy to me.

Anyway, the songs on Upside Down Mountain sound quite varied, so they can’t be accused of riding the same pony all the time. The fact that the album was produced by Mr. Wilson doesn’t mean (fortunately) that Conor Oberst severed all the ties with the Saddle Creek people he’s worked with to such fine effect in the past. Quite a few familiar names creep up on here too, other notable guests are the Soederberg sisters(?) from First Aid Kit who sound nice, but who I personally could have done without, they are just not adding that much despite their undoubtedly pretty voices.

True to my taste, my favourite songs on here are the most reduced ones, such as album closer Common Knowledge and You Are Your Mother’s Child (the latter with only Conor Oberst on vocals and an acoustic guitar). Best song by far for me however is Night At Lake Unknown, a track that roughly falls in the same category as the ones mentioned above. Actually it is not that sparsely arranged as there are instruments such as a flute, a clarinet, vibraphone and a pedal steel guitar to be heard, but the outcome is a rather sparsely and modestly sounding slow and dreamy song that I love a whole lot. The highlight for me on here.

Other noteworthy and good songs are in contrast rather lavishly produced and arranged, such as Desert Island Questionnaire, Hundreds Of Ways and Zigzagging Towards The Light and are prime examples of contemporary Guitar Pop and sound than more like the Folk or Country-influenced sounds you have come to expect from Mr. Oberst’s records (apart from Bright Eyes’ last record The People’s Key with its 80’s Synth-stylings) .

What is once again made abundantly clear and obvious (not that it actually should have to be mentioned), is that Conor Oberst is a intelligent person and a brilliant lyricist, the lyrics on here are once again outstanding, eloquent and highly refined. Excellent work in that regard, musically it perhaps won’t become my favourite of the works he was involved in, but nevertheless it’s a very good record I will cherish, and well worth discovering if you are not yet familiar with Mr. Oberst.

PS. The Cover and booklet  illustrations are by Ian Felice of The Felice Brothers, which is nice.

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.