Jim Bryson's second album (and the second with his band the Occasionals) shows him getting more comfortable in the studio. Though it keeps country-rock as its main focus, The North Side Benches smoothes out the sound and the songwriting; where the guitars may have roared into overdrive on the first album, here they're restrained to a pleasant buzz and complemented nicely by the rest of the instrumentation. The added sonic richness still isn't enough to hide the melancholy, though. Album-opener "Sleeping in Toronto" is a bitter goodbye letter to someone who didn't seem to realize that just being back home was more important than the relationship; next up is a song about how everyone wishes they could be "Somewhere Else"; many of the rest of the tracks on the album share that sense of dissatisfaction with circumstances, places, and being lost inside your own life. Even though the sound here has been smoothed down and rendered more. . .mature, that aspect ultimately manages to make The North Side Benches a more compelling album. The North Side Benches also features a multimedia component that includes a link to five extra songs referred to as "The North Side Ditches", including demos of four of the tracks found on the album.
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AllMusic Review by Sean Carruthers