Bobby Long

Wishbone

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On A Winter Tale, Bobby Long's 2010 ATO debut, he employed the same basic sound he had utilized on his self-released offerings, in particular 2009's Dirty Pond Songs: namely, fingerpicked or strummed acoustic guitars and a simple lonesome harmonica added for texture to deeply introspective songs. Electric guitars appeared, but were used quite sparingly so as not to detract form the desired mood. Wishbone turns that formula on its head. Loud electric guitars, sharp, clipped drums, and stark electric basslines dominate the mix. Acoustic guitars are employed as elements to move a song's narrative along, and are almost never emphasized. Produced by the ever reliable Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucero, Gaslight Anthem), Long's 12-song set reveals Neil Young & Crazy Horse as a spiritual influence. Musically and lyrically, Long's songs are tighter than in the past; they don't ramble or drift. Check the taut, brooding rocker "Blood in the Orchard," which begins as a declaration of anger on a single riff, and finds more tender, open spaces in its chorus, while being unrelenting in its accusation. "Devil Moon"'s big drums and urgent guitar intro give way to an easier country-rock feel, and there's more grain in Long's delivery. The poetry is just as rich, but its tauter lines offer less density imagistically; there's more first-person revelation by his protagonist. That's not to say the lilt is entirely removed on Wishbone. "My Parade" offers a balance of acoustic and electric guitars as Rich Hinman's pedal steel paints the backdrop in a slow, shuffling 4/4. "Help You Mend" is another ballad that borrows heavily from Young's Harvest album in feel. Those familiar with Long's back catalog may have to look at the sleeve twice when "Yesterday Yesterday" commences with its soulful female backing chorus and the strident guitar attack that announces his vocal. "Not Tonight, Not Today" is such a hooky rocker it could have been recorded by Greg Kihn or Matthew Sweet. Wishbone isn't perfect; there are some really clumsy rhymes here -- most glaringly heard in the verses of set closer "To the Light." That said, it is a bracing, refreshing next step, and easily his strongest offering to date. In terms of delivering on focus and creativity, Long succeeds in spades.

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