Saddle Creek, April 10, 2007
Track Listing: 1. Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed), 2. Four Winds, 3. If the Brakeman Turns My Way, 4. Hot Knives, 5. Make a Plan to Love Me, 6. Soul Singer in a Session Band, 7. Classic Cars, 8. Middleman, 9. Cleanse Song, 10. No One Would Riot for Less, 11. Coat Check Dream Song, 12. I Must Belong Somewhere, 13. Lime Tree
“All the way to Cassadaga to commune with the dead
They said, you’d better look alive”
-from “Four Winds”
Wow. She must be some witch. Sabrina that is. The could-be Florida spiritualist (lover?) who seems to have sent Conor Oberst into some kind of mystical, magical, other-worldly tissy. He’s friggin possessed! So much in fact, he’s dedicated an entire album to her. He’s included a free Ouiji-like decoder. You can encrypt the secret of the universe by moving it across the jewel case. He’s also spurned some of the most beautiful songs and poetically crafted lyrics ever written. It’s exciting finding a new Dylan. Seriously.
“Where the squatters made a mural of a Mexican girl
With fifteen cans of spray paint in a chemical swirl
She is standing at the end of the world
Four winds blowing through her hair”
-from “Four Winds”
“Of a millstone house in a seaside town
When your heart gave out in a mission bed
So your wife gave birth to a funeral dirge
As you woke up purged as a wailing infant”
-from “Cleanse Song”
Pity this poor Nebraska word-monster. On his early albums he was screaming, shouting, into the microphone on his home recordings, songs double the size of Desolation Row. His poetry was bursting, gushing from his mouth and shooting out and over his guitar and out into every disillusioned indie bedroom this side of Omaha. Now he’s slowed down. Grown up. Dropped out. Moved to the big city. But he still cries at night. Alone in the dark, just like the lovesick small-town boy he was back home. A home where hearts break over beer fights and the sky touches the earth in one long and helplessly flat and lonely line. A sad line that goes on forever.
“It’s the Sum of Man slouching towards Bethlehem
A heart just can’t contain all of that empty space
It breaks. It breaks. It breaks.”
-from “Four Winds”
“Will you make a plan to love me sometime soon?” It’s a simple question And Oberst does it with retro ’50s finesse replete with echoing background vocals and sad, beautiful arrangements. A few bom, bom, boms to boot. It’s simply precious. But there’s more. Hoboes and brakemen and Guthrie-style politics. Bodies decomposing in body bags. A vibe very much like The Band or Dead, or Dylan or Neil or Hank or any other wobbling minstrel knocking out some words to try and put things straight. Justify it all. Show things how they are. Make sense of everything. Because otherwise doesn’t it all just really suck?
“The dead can hide beneath the ground and the birds can always fly
But the rest of us do what we must in constant compromise
So I’ve become the Middleman
The gray areas are fine
The ‘I don’t know’, the ‘maybe so’
is the only real reply
It is the only true reply”
So if you want to talk to the dead, just look around you. They’re everywhere. On buses. In cars. On trains. Live on TV. Their pale and hollow eyes stare out at you from everywhere like empty holes in space. Give them a sweet kiss. Hug them. Because in the end, like us, they just really don’t know where to go. That’s why they’re still here. And just when you think everything is alright, just when you think everything is okay … (when I first heard the lyric of what is possibly the most powerful song on the album I thought he was singing “So love me now. Help is coming” but when I read the liner notes after my heart stopped when I read “Hell is coming”.
“Little soldier, little insect, you know war it has no heart
It will kill you in the sunshine or happily in the dark
Where kindness is a card game or a bent up cigarette
In the trenches, in the hard rain, with a bullet and a bet”
-from “No One Would Riot for Less”
Yes, a hard rain is gonna fall. But you have no fucking idea just how hard. So hang on. Make a plan. Hold on to somebody. Hold on tight. Anybody. There might still be time.