Eric Bachmann is probably best known as the front man
of 90's alt-rockers Archers Of Loaf. After their 1998 breakup,
Bachman released a string of lush, poppy albums under the name
Crooked Fingers. In his most recent project, Bachmann has
shed his band name along with the accompanying instruments in
favor of a simpler approach.
As Crooked Fingers, Bachmann could have been mistaken for a Neil
Diamond cover band and in 2002 he confirmed his influences
with the EP Reservoir Songs, which features Neil Diamond
and Bruce Springsteen covers. It seems with each progressing
project, Bachmann strips down the production value further in
search of a more Americana sound. He has definitely found it with
his latest release, To The Races.
The ten tracks on To The Races display Bachmann's most
sparse arrangements yet. His voice seems to have migrated from
Neil Diamond and found a comfortable place in between Springsteen
and Steve Earle. Bachmann wrote the album over the course
of two years while traveling on the road and he recorded it himself
in a hotel in Buxton, North Carolina. This might explain why his
southern accent stands out much more than on his past records.
It also justifies the towns and cities (Cadiz, Carrboro, and Savannah)
that are peppered throughout the record. But more importantly,
it explains the droning, churning sound of the music and the longing
that coincides in the lyrics.
To The Races is a quiet, solemn album with sparse harmonies,
an occasional piano, and some violin. But it's Bachmann's Iron
& Wine-esque fingerpicking that rests as the core of the
album. Despite the spaciousness of the songs, Bachmann's talent
for composing really shines through in these conservative arrangements.
The record kicks off with a beautiful, lonely ballad set in
the south of Spain called "Man O' War". On songs like
this one, Bachmann's lyrics paint a clear image while implying
a layer of melancholia with lines such as, "like the moon
doesn't mind if the sun doesn't shine / The sea doesn't care
if you're lonesome tonight."
Another collection of great lyrics is "Little Bird"
- a beautiful, delicate ballad about a bird who serves as the
only ray of hope among a group of miserable travelers. With its
"Some Say Love" chord progression, "Little Bird"
is an example of how Bachmann walks the fence of a stereotypical
sad, sappy, songwriter without falling over. "She circled
over through the evening as we traveled sorrow bound / and offered
up the wings for using/ But we could not lift off the ground /
Won't you fly away with me?" It's the lingering symbol of
hope in his songs that prevents the listener from getting lost
in the abyss.
All in all, To The Races is a great record for a rainy
day or a long drive or a long drive on a rainy day. But, be ready
for an abundance of lines about "ruin" and "searching"
and women who aren't there. Lush, refreshing arrangements like
"Lonesome Warrior" are perfectly sequenced after the
darker, guitar and vocal pieces like "Genie, Genie".
For anyone who is traveling home for the Holidays, To The
Races will set the perfect reflective mood for your trip.
But get the album soon. It's only a matter of time before we hear
one of these tracks on a "very special" episode of The
O.C. or a Zach Braff mixtape.
1. Man O' War
3. Carrboro Woman
5. Genie, Genie
6. Lonesome Warrior
7. To The Races
8. Liars And Thieves
9. Little Bird
10. So Long, Savannah
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