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Eric Bachmann
To The Races
Saddle Creek Records
www.ericbachmann.com


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.

-Jon Murray

Track Listing:
1. Man O' War
2. Home
3. Carrboro Woman
4. Genivieve
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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