In anticipation of the Cassadaga full-length, Conor Oberst -- and a large selection of friends, including M. Ward, Janet Weiss, Rachael Yamagata, and Ben Kweller -- offered up a single (which, with six tracks, acts much more as an EP) to satiate fans for the month in between release dates. Four Winds, as it's called, displays Lifted-era Bright Eyes, with acoustic guitar-driven songs that echo powerfully of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and of course, Bob Dylan. The title track, and the only one that is found on both discs, is far and away the most interesting one on the set, with a solid opening fiddle line (never mind that it strongly alludes to "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town") and compelling vocals ("The Bible is blind/The Torah is deaf/The Qu'ran is mute/If you burned them all together you'd get close to the truth"), and while the other pieces try their hardest to create the same kind of energy found there, they never quite achieve it. Harmonicas and lap steels and flügelhorns set and arrange themselves expertly -- there are even a few guitar solos -- but nothing stands out particularly ("Stray Dog Freedom" is even a little corny and clichéd, which is unusual for the generally inventive Oberst). Only in the closer, the wonderfully sparse "Tourist Trap" ("It's not my weight that makes me faint or the sugar in my blood/But the way these strangers stand so close," the singer coughs over cowboy-boot percussion), does Bright Eyes reassure listeners that there is in fact great possibility for Cassadaga, and that they've saved their best material for that.
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown