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  To the Races  
  Eric Bachmann  
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If anything is going to prod me into returning to the review business, it might as well be Eric Bachmann. That seems vaguely appropriate. As we covered years ago, I am an Eric Bachmann fan-boy.

Big E has finally given up the pretense of band names, and embraced the already established fact that he is a solo artist who tours with friends and acquaintances. The idea that Crooked Fingers was something more than Bachmann with accompaniment was silly on the face. On his latest offering he does away with the pretense altogether: To The Races is released under the name Eric Bachmann. It is also his strongest output and most interesting voice since the eponymously titled Crooked Fingers debut.

Bachmann seems to have used his Crooked Fingers tenure to define and embrace his own voice. After years of drowning himself beneath an avalanche of distortion and guitar in Archers of Loaf, Crooked Fingers was a radical departure with all cleanly plucked folkish chords and loungey moanings from the indie underbelly. But four releases later, the croaking balladeering was getting a little tired. To The Races exits that scene almost entirely. Sure, this is still Bachmann singing over his exquisitely plucked counter-melodies, but the setting of the songs are more aligned with his last Crooked Fingers album than with any of the gutter songs from Crooked Fingers or Bring on the Snakes. Opening track Man O' War is from the same Spanish countryside that inspired Dignity and Shame's flamenco drenched Islero and Andalucia.

While To The Races is virtually unidentifiable as the work of the same man who spat out Icky Mettle, there exists across all Bachmann projects an orchestration and song-building that is his basic musical DNA. Obvious instrumentation aside, take a moment or two to compare the arrangement of Man O' War - specifically the lonely, heart-broken piano tinkering that trembles in just after the first chorus - to the tenuous beauty that builds through virtually every track on White Trash Heroes. When people speak of Eric Bachmann's genius, this is the piece that most often gets overlooked. The man can obviously turn a phrase and build a universe within his song. His fretwork is impeccable. But the most important aspect of any of his work, from AOL to Barry Black to Crooked Fingers to his new (final?) incarnation as himself, is the arrangement.

To The Races' opening track (the six and a half minute opus Man O' War) is its strongest, showcasing all of Bachmann's strengths to great result. The aforementioned plinking piano takes a solid piece of Bachmann balladeering and exalts it. Carrboro Woman, Genevieve, Lonesome Warrior, and Liars and Thieves stand out as well. The title track combines a well played gypsy fiddle over Bachmann's bluegrass pluckery to good effect.

It is doubtful that To The Races will win Bachmann legions of fans from those not at least nominally sold on his oeuvre already, but it is his best collection of tunes since Bring On the Snakes. Nothing here feels like filler, which is something that couldn't be said about the last couple of Crooked Fingers releases. Bachmann is fully entrenched in exactly the musical space he's meant to inhabit - indie folk steeped in the backwoods of North Carolina, tinted with the sunsets and coast lines of Iberia. Strongly recommended.

Related Links:

EvilSponge features many Crooked Fingers reviews, mostly by Malimus before his "haitus":
      Album: Crooked Fingers
      Album: Bring On The Snakes
      Concert: Thu.9.Nov.00
      Concert: Sat.26.May.01
      EP: Reservoir Songs
      Album: Red Devil Dawn


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