Sunday, November 30, 2008

Review: Right Away, Great Captain! - The Eventually Home (* * * *)

True or False: Conor Oberst is a musical genius worthy of emulation by ambitious singer-songwriters. If you answered "True," you should give Manchester Orchestra singer Andy Hull's side project, Right Away, Great Captain! a listen immediately. If you answered "False" or "Hell No," think twice. I find myself somewhere in the middle, for what it's worth. While it's a bit unfair (and lazy) to make such an outright association, Hull's new album The Eventually Home often sounds like a slightly more progressive version of early Bright Eyes, though you could probably also draw comparisons to numerous angsty folk artists (Joshua James, Rocky Votolato, etc.).

The Eventually Home is actually the second installment in a three-album concept about a 17th-century sailor. The first section, The Bitter End, follows the man's adventures at sea, while "Home" is about his return to his unfaithful wife and shattered life. Though the record has a central theme, the songs stand on their own and often feel quite personal. Sharing Oberst's love of explicit details and lonely confessions, most notably on the adulterous tale "Cutting Off The Blood To The Ten" and the heartbreaking closer "I Was A Cage," Hull puts his pain in plain view. His quavering voice is saturated with sincerity and despair as he sings lines like "I was a wave collapsing you" and "I could use a friend to say they love me," which could come across as pathetic but for his ability to unearth the feelings of utter loneliness we've all experienced.

While several of Hull's songs are long, detail-driven narratives, some of the most musically compelling moments come on his simpler, shorter tunes. "Devil Dressed In Blue" and "Memories From A Shore" both feature arresting vocal melodies (provided solely by Hull) and an unsettling intensity. "What A Pity" is a gentle, finger-picked song that's more on the wistful side of heartbreak, a welcome reprieve from all of the anger found throughout the other nine tracks. Hull's skillful guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, anchors the whole project and provides just enough variation to enhance and strengthen his tortured tales.

Though it is frequently reminiscent of several other grief-ridden folk projects, Hull's Right Away, Great Captain! contains enough personality to create a satisfying experience. The Eventually Home features strong songwriting and impressive musicianship, making it a very worthwhile singer/songwriter album.

Right Away, Great Captain!'s MySpace page