One of the things I love best about Bright Eyes (yes, I unapologetically love Bright Eyes) is the way the band mingles so many rootsy sounds in songs that end up sounding contemporary. It's for that reason, and not just Matthew Reveles' vulnerable, emotive vocals, that I compare the Tempe singer-songwriter to the Omaha outfit fronted by Conor Oberst.
Reveles' impressive album We'll Meet Halfway is full of old-timey instrumentation: guitar, upright bass, jazz bass, harmonica, fake organ, clarinet, lap steel, Dobro, kazoo, whistle, tambourine, and shakers. Actually, those are just the instruments Reveles himself is credited with playing; he's also got buddies on banjo, piano, drums, and hootin'/hollerin'.
Fancy playin' alone doesn't make an album, but We'll Meet Halfway is full of gorgeous, well-crafted songs that show Reveles sounding equally fresh and timeless. "Danny Boy," which kicks things off after an instrumental blues track, evokes the classic Irish ballad with an advice-giving narrator, but it's a wholly new song and much more rousing than the way you usually hear the classic performed, filled with a great harmonica melody and the layered vocals he uses throughout the disk. Those vocals also sound especially great on "The New One For Reals," which and I don't make this comparison lightly reminds me of Elliot Smith's "Waltz #2."
And, no, there's no "Say Yes" on We'll Meet Halfway, but "On a Freeway Overpass" is pretty spectacular, painting images of freeways being built and landmarks being torn town, that seem very Phoenix-y, while also recalling classic singer-songwriters of the past few decades.
By the closer, the vaudevillian "Do Due Dew," I was sold on Matthew Reveles. I realize I've drawn some big comparisons in this review between him and masters of the craft he's practicing, but We'll Meet Halfway is a special record, certainly one of the best local offerings I've heard this year.
Wed., April 29, 9 p.m., 2009