Review Summary: While it may not be for the casual listener, Cassadega's orchestral country background makes it a lot of fun for serious fans. It may never be considered a highlight of the Bright Eyes discography, but it certainly deserves attention and time to grow on a
Being the follow up to 2005's successful and impressive masterpiece, I'm Wide Awake it's Morning, Bright Eyes' Cassadega had to do something special to find itself a spot in the band's discography. While it is a new and unique sound for the band, it ended up something of a lost Bright Eyes album, much like I'm Wide Awake it's Morning's counterpart, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. However, Cassadega is underrated in many areas. The album rides a fine line between orchestral country and indie folk, something that renders a surprisingly intriguing sound.
The album starts with your typical Bright Eyes beginning. A voice telling a blurry story to get the initial vibe of the album out there, with guitar eventually intruding in. The first several tracks of the album start off very strong, with the second track, "Four Winds", really getting the album off to a legitimate, fiery start. The mandolin driven "Four Winds" comes to a satisfying end and moves onto a couple more adventurous tracks. "If the Brakeman Turns My Way", one of the album's top tracks, is filled with dual vocal harmonies and background vocals done with the help of Jason Boesel. "Hot Knives" is somewhat of an experimental track, with electronic elements mixed in with indie/country orchestral overall feel of the album.
Cassadega takes a more personal turn with the middle tracks. "Make a Plan to Love Me" slows the album way down, but retains its solidity. "Soul Singer in a Session Band" especially exploits the albums country feel, featuring an array of instruments including organ and violin. The breezy, story telling feel of "Classic Cars" does a wonderful job of lightening the feel of the album as well as the sound. While it seems like a picker upper, it is not followed through with.
After "Classic Cars", the album takes a turn not necessarily for the worst, but more for the boring. The album slows down a mentionable amount and to some degree lacks the country vibe and integrity that initially gave the album its uniqueness in the beginning. With that, the album loses a lot of its intrigue. Many tracks towards the end, most notably "No One Would Riot for Less" are meant to have an epic type of feel to them. While they do indeed have an epic sound, they fail in some ways to feel genuine or special. However, there is one gem here, in "I Must Belong Somewhere", a track that would have fit better right after "Soul Singer in a Session Band". Ending with "Lime Tree" takes the album to yet another personal place and offers a somber feeling, yet Oberst injects the song with a strong sense of hope. It is actually a decent way to end the album.
While it isn't necessarily a spectacular album, Cassadega certainly deserves a spot in the Bright Eyes discography and offers a quite enjoyable listen for the mainstay Bright Eyes fans. The twangy guitar, violins, organs, and orchestral feel are certainly what makes this album and forces an obligation to respect Conor Oberst for his versatility as a musician, love him or hate him.