If you were to compare Bob Dylan and Bright Eyes, you might say that this is Conor Oberst‘s crack at doing a Basement Tapes on it. Only problem is Oberst, unfortunately, isn’t Dylan and The Valley Mystic Band, aren’t The Band.
On Latest South, the introspective Bright Eyes has shed his melancholy tendencies and retreated to sonic ranch studios in Texas with his new bunch of travelling willburys, finding a more upbeat, positive approach to his musical sensibilities, than what he’s been preaching for the last 15 years, while also sharing song-writing credits for the first time in his career.
While his latest move to reinvent himself is admirable, the 16 tracks on this album are possibly six or seven a step too far – and at times, the record sounds like a group of mates complimenting each other’s guitar solos and rocking things out, rather than producing anything of real substance.
Everything about this album stinks of a band trying to search for the great America; from the Walt Whitman quote on the sleeve, to the tributes to Hemmingway and Hunter S. Thompson in the anti war anthem, ‘Roosevelt Room’: what the listener gets in return , sadly though, are bland shades of mediocrity.
There are some redeeming factors, however, and the record does contain moments of real joy. The rockabilly ‘Big Black Nothing’ sounds like a band finding a groove in a basement with a couple of bottles of whisky nearby, ‘Air Mattress’ could easily be a Tom Petty classic with its positive vibes and sweet harmonic vocals, and ‘Ten Women’, an ode, perhaps, to a gospel song of the deep south, proves when the band concentrate on the songs, and not the quality of the jam factor – it works. Unfortunately, for most of this record, they don’t.