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Okkervil River | Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See (Jagjaguwar)
The first full-length from this Austin, TX collective (following two self-released mini-albums) is an assured, occasionally superb entry into the diverse canon of work we like to summarise around these parts as Americana. What separates OR from the pack that aimlessly follows the Uncle Tupelo school of all things 'alt' is a more textured backdrop - replete with Wurlitzer, horns, Mellotron and strings alongside guitar, bass, drums and prerequisite pedal steel and mandolin - and a wry lyricism. Much like a folkier Bright Eyes, in fact, or an amalgamation with Lullaby for the Working Class. A more concise but equally adventurous wordsmith as Conor Oberst, principal songwriter Will Robinson Sheff's narratives are similarly soul-bearing but less blatantly autobiographical ?? "We went out one night and took a flashlight / Out with these two girls Colin knew from Kenwood Christian / One was named Laurie, that's what the story said next week in the Guardian / And when I killed her it was so easy that I wanted to kill her again" (Westfall). A more sombre response comes in Dead Dog Song, one of two tracks reworked from the first release, where "Sam, bless him, has died and left this home / The woodchucks running wild, the bushes overgrown... / He was only here fourteen years / And now the branches scratch my face and I can't hold back my tears." The songs never appear sentimental, though, and deal with the harsh realities of family and personal relationships. Musically, opener Red is as welcoming as an open fire, a vocal as rich as an Eitzel or a Dando, but the voice tells of bad blood between mothers and daughters ?? "I know I don't deserve supervised sight of her / But each day becomes a blur without my daughter." The snappily titled Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas is tucked away a track from the end, but is probably the album's most beautiful moment. Returning home for the holidays, our narrator is reminded of a lost love "and a room ... where I held you so tenderly / And where in summer I opened your letter to me". Amid the cigarettes, rusty tires, plastic wrap and razors, Okkervil River offers up treasures aplenty.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002