Monsters of Folk: Monsters of Folk

RIYL: Hem, The Weepies, Bittersweets

The term “super group” is bandied about all too frequently, often arousing great expectations that are rarely fulfilled. The door to disappointment is left wide open; participants hedge when it comes to contributing their best songs or find their creativity stifled when compromising to serve to other egos. Yet while it’s rare to witness the second coming of an all-star outfit like Blind Faith or Crosby Stills and Nash, a blending of big names inevitably cranks up the curiosity factor regardless.

On the other hand, a summit session involving lo-fi provocateurs M Ward, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Jim James (AKA Yim Yames) might be greeted with some hint of suspicion, given the fact none of them is known for emphatic exposition. Surprisingly then, this, their first recorded collaboration, comes across as significantly more inviting and accessible than just about anything these individuals have managed on their own. While the name of the conglomerate indicates a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the songs themselves are straightforward and sincere. What’s more, given the fact that the songwriting is shared collectively and that all the instrumentation is doled out between them, the set is surprisingly consistent, showing equal input from all four contributors. And though most of the music is on the mellow side, the melodies make an emphatic impression – from the folkie sing-along of “Man Named Truth” and the gentle caress of “Magic Marker” and “His Master’s Voice,” to the breezy country sway of “The Right Place” and the steady ascent of “Whole Lotta Losin’” and “Ahead of the Curve.” They’ve done their ongoing outfits proud, while making what may well be the best album of their collective careers. (Shangri-La 2009)

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