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Now Hear This: American Bardo - Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz

Rating: ***

This slice of Americana is based on a book that I have not read. But, source material aside, the test of any concept album is whether it holds together musically, and I think this one does just that. So, pour yourself a cup of tea, get comfy in an overstuffed reading chair, and give it a listen…

The song cycle is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Now, the ‘bardo,’ as my Buddhist friends know, is that hazy intermediate place between life and death, and that is squarely where this album lives.

Watch video for "Bury Me" on YouTube below:

From the opening track, “Matterbloomlight (Revisited),” to the album closer “Won’t Live It Down,” the record spends a lot of time in that space between swampy, Daniel Lanois-sounding textures and gauzy, Bon Iverish alt-folk—with the occasional nod to the twangy drive of early Jayhawks.

Standout tracks include the sparse and spooky “Bury Me,” the ethereal “A Home That I Can’t Know,” marked by a soaring falsetto, and the piano-propelled change of pace, “Old Theory of Love.”

You could fault a couple songs toward the end of the story for falling a little flat, including the closing track, “Won’t Live It Down,” which sounds a bit like a late-era Tom Petty outtake. But overall, this is an album worth your time, and a story worth following.

The entire album is marked by exquisite guitar playing (O’Bitz) and tasty, keening vocals (Anders). The tone throughout is brooding but never dull, and it’s an evocative journey. The two collaborators, starting from a book they both clearly love, seem to honor the source without being too reverential. Instead of feeling like a museum piec3, the album f3e3ls like a companion to the novel, and maybe a study guide as well.

A track-by track review really doesn’t suit this record, any more than you would want to review individual chapters of a novel. But when you have fifty-three minutes to sit with this collection of characters and landscapes, drawn from a well-regarded story, you’ll definitely be rewarded.

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