I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
This is one of two albums released on January 25th 2005 by Bright Eyes, the other being Digital Ash In A Digital Urn.
Conor Oberst – Vocals, Guitar, Songwriter (the only permanent member of the band)
Jesse Harris – Guitar
Tim Luntzel – Bass
Mike Mogis – Mandolin
Jim James – Backup Vocals
Jason Boesel – Drums
Emmylou Harris – Vocals
Nate Walcott – Trumpet
Nick White – Piano, Organ
Clark Baechle – Drums
Andy Lemaster – Vocals
Mario Taylor – Vocals
Jake Bellows – Harmonica
Alex McManus – Guitar
As you can read in the liner notes, this entire album was recorded in one week in February 2004 at Presto Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska except for the vocals by Emmylou Harris and Jim James which were recorded in Nashville and Louisville respectively.
The majority of this album (I’m talking about 9 out of 10 songs) is very country/folk rock influenced, more than any other of Oberst’s albums. So here’s a track by track review of the album:
At The Bottom Of Everything – 4.5/5
An excellent opener to the album and it gives a good taste of what is to come. This track starts off with Conor telling a story about a woman on a plane on her way to meet her fiancé. But there’s a mechanical failure and the plane begins to plummet into the ocean and with a 1-2-1-2-3-4, Conor starts up the song about a minute in. It’s an extremely catchy, folky song, no drums, just acoustic guitars and a mandolin. Jim James provides some backup vocals in the chorus of this song. The lyrics are great, as is the norm for Bright Eyes. What do they mean? Who cares they sound cool.
We Are Nowhere And It’s Now – 4/5
This song contains the first appearance of country legend Emmylou Harris, who provides backup vocals during the chorus. It is a slower, almost waltz-like song. This song sees the album’s instrumental palette expand with use of the trumpet and piano. Some stranger lyrics are featured in this song such as “Did you forget that yellow bird, how could you forget your yellow bird?" You’d think it would make sense in the context of the song, but it doesn’t.
Old Soul Song (For The New World Order) – 4.5/5
Another slow tune, but it’s probably the best song on the album yet. With some truly beautiful instrumentation, it is hard not to be drawn into this song on the first listen, very accessible. The climax is excellent, with Conor nearly screaming the refrain of “They go wild."
Lua – 3.5/5
This would be the plainest song on the album. It features solely Conor singing and playing his acoustic guitar. Some of the best lyrics on the album, but the problem is after the last two slow songs, it would be nice to have a more upbeat song like At The Bottom of Everything. Instead we get this, which could have made the album a more enjoyable listen overall if it were more strategically placed.
Train Under Water – 4/5
When this song starts off, you might be thinking, another slow song? What’s he thinking? But it quickly becomes more upbeat by the chorus which includes some nice slide guitar. At 6 minutes, this is one of the two epic songs of the album.
First Day Of My Life – 4/5
A lighter fare than Train Under Water and it is the shortest song on the album. There really is not much one can write about this song, it is nothing special, but definitely does not take away from the album. It does however, provide us with one quotable lyric, “I’d rather be working for a pay cheque, than waiting to win the lottery."
Another Travelin’ Song – 4.5/5
One of the most upbeat songs on the album that recalls the opening track as it is extremely folk/country rock influenced. Emmylou Harris again provides backup vocals for the chorus.
Land Locked Blues – 5/5
This is hands down the best song on the album and the final appearance of Emmylou Harris. This is the second epic song on the album at just under 6 minutes. The chord structure is beautiful and the vocals are very emotional. The song keeps building until a climactic trumpet solo about 4 minutes in and of course there are more great lyrics by Conor.
Poison Oak – 4/5
A bit of a slow starter, but by 3 minutes it becomes clear that this is a very strong song which features some nice pedal steel guitar and organ.
Road To Joy – 4/5
This song has a lot to live up to considering that the last song on Bright Eyes’ previous album was the 10 minute brilliant rant Let’s Not *** Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved). When comparing this song to Let’s Not… it is a disappointment somewhat, but that does not mean it is a bad song. Conor takes the melody from Beethoven’s Ode To Joy and makes his own mini-epic song. Superb lyrics such as “I have my drugs, I have my woman. It keeps away the loneliness. My parents they have their religion, but sleep in separate houses" are sprinkled throughout. Midway through the song, Conor states that he thinks failure sounds better than being successful and tells his band to “*** it up boys, make some noise." With that the song devolves into a bit of a mess, which is obviously deliberate, but takes away from my enjoyment of the song. Oh well, at least the majority of the song was good, but it is mediocre at best when compared to a finale that you know Oberst is capable of making.
At The Bottom Of Everything
Land Locked Blues
Overall I would say this album is not as strong as Oberst’s 2002 album, Lifted but still quite a good listen. As a stand alone album it is nowhere near as ambitious as Lifted, but when you consider that this album was released simultaneously with Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, a whole album of music which is completely different from I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning it is clear that Oberst is as ambitious as ever. Most Bright Eyes fans will love this album, but whether it will convert many people into Bright Eyes followers is up for debate.
Overall Rating: 4/5