Review: Bright Eyes and Neva Dinova- One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels (reissue)
Somehow, I never really got into Bright Eyes. I can’t really say why for sure. I know for certain that I heard and applauded “When the President Talks to God” when it came out back in 2005, but I never really went past that and only later discovered Conor Oberst when he began releasing music under his own name. I own both of his, uh, (I use this term very loosely) solo albums and the Monsters of Folk record, but I had not yet checked out anything released under the Bright Eyes moniker. So when I heard that a 2004 EP was recently reissued with four new bonus tracks, I jumped at the opportunity to hear it. Especially when I heard that it was a split EP with Neva Dinova and that I might discover another artist in the process as well.
Roughly half of the EP (in it’s expanded 10-track format, I suppose it can be called an album) is performed by Bright Eyes with the other half coming from Neva Dinova. Both artists are truly talented and I would buy full albums from either of them. However, by it’s very nature the album does not flow well and having four tracks recorded six years after the other six certainly doesn’t help matters in that regard. So what we have here are 10 tracks, most of them excellent, but as seen here that does not always make for a great album.
The album begins with Neva Dinova’s “Rollerskating”, the first of the four new tracks. It is an acoustic folk-rock tune. Singer Jake Bellows reveals a very pleasant singing voice and some nice lyrics. Not one of the standouts, though.
“Happy Accident”, by Bright Eyes, is the second track. It is easily the best on the record and maybe the best tune this year from what I will loosely define as the “rock genre”. Oberst once again proves himself to be one of the best lyricists of this generation as he asks somebody to “tell me where it is, ’cause I’m lookin’ for that happiness”. Later, he shows his subtle genius at observing human nature in lines such as “Not yet a mother but a good complex/You like the boys when they’re scared of sex/What a shame that they grow up to be men/And maybe father does know best/And that’s the reason why he left/All your pride to the last ditch you defend”. And there is something about that voice that gets under my skin every time I listen. I had this one stuck on my head for most of yesterday.
Neva Dinova’s “Someone’s Love”, an indie rock tune with some lyrics of longing follows. As with their previous track, it is good, but not great and definitely not a standout here.
The final new track, Bright Eye’s “I Know You” is half love song and half character study and it instantly reminded me of Paul Simon’s lyrical masterpiece “The Dangling Conversation”, but with the bitterness of early Dylan. “You said the idea of perfection is just fundamentally cruel”, he sings and who can argue with that?
The original six track EP begins at track four on this reissue with Neva Dinova’s “Trapped” and this is the first time we are convinced that they belong on the same album as Conor Oberst. The acoustic country rock tune contains wonderful lines such as “Baby, it’s the beer that’s smilin’, it ain’t me” and “I’ll miss you when you’re gone, so just get out” which may even be among the albums best.
The Bright Eyes track “Black Comedy” is up next. Hearing this after his previous two newer tracks, one can easily see that his confidence as a vocalist, and thus his performance has greatly improved in the past six years. But the song itself with its description of something sounding like “coffins dropped into the earth” certainly lives up to it’s name.
“Poison”, a break-up song by Neva Dinova follows and it is once again an acoustic track with country elements including a pedal steel. The lyrics are among the finest of the Dinova tracks “Drinking blood don’t keep me young,” Bellows sings “it’s just the taste upon my tongue”
“I’ll Be Your Friend” by Bright Eyes is one of my favorites here with it’s upbeat nature and the horn arrangement (including saxophone) that makes it sound like a lost ’60s pop classic (and I think I have made my affinity for ’60s pop well known). The slightly Dylanesque lyrics coupled with this make the song a standout on the album.
Up next, Neva Dinova performs “Get Back” a down tempo and very personal acoustic rock track. “Keep those that you love the furthest from you, but try to take care of them too”, he sings at one point. This would be a standout on most albums, but it is a testament to the quality of the music here that it isn’t.
“Spring Cleaning” is also performed by Neva Dinova but it was written by Conor Oberst. It is easy to see why he chose not to record this one himself. Songs like this are just not his style, but it is a great tune nonetheless and, while I mean absolutely no disrespect to Jake Bellows or his songwriting which is great at times, this is obviously the strongest material the band has to work with on the album.
After listening to this it is easy to see why Conor Oberst hit the big time (at least in an indie sort of way). He is one of this generation’s best songwriting talents and I will definitely be checking out more of his early Bright Eyes work. And Neva Dinova, while maybe not among the top tier of the modern folk artists, are still a great band who should be heard.
All of the tracks here are worth listening to a few times at least and most of them even fall into the “great” category. But that does not mean this is a great album. Buy it and put the tunes into your iPod or mp3 player and then put it on shuffle. Because, as great as the two artists and the ten songs are, the record strongly lacks cohesiveness.
Happy Accident by Bright Eyes