Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Silver Jews: Bright Flight
Drag City, 2001
David Berman has spent the better part of a decade utilizing the Silver Jews
as a creative outlet -- that is, when he's not busy traveling the country, working
odd jobs to support himself, and giving poetry readings. A wonderfully
idiosyncratic observer of the human condition, Berman approaches each new Jews
record as an opportunity to sharpen his highly stylized vernacular and present
as unique a view on American culture as one is likely to find in contemporary
Bright Flight, the Jews' fourth full-length effort, was recorded just
outside Nashville, and is fittingly beyond the pale of the usual Music City
fare. Having stated that, this is as close to country as Berman's come, although
he hinted at such leanings on 1996's The Natural Bridge. Bright Flight's
most obvious debt to the genre surfaces on the album's lone cover, "Friday Night
Fever," which originally appeared on the 1981 George Strait release, Strait
Bright Flight and The Natural Bridge share something else in
common: the absence of former Pavement merry prankster Stephen Malkmus.
Malkmus played a pivotal role on the offbeat, indie-minded Starlite Walker,
the Jews' first long-player from 1994, and appeared again on the band's finest
album, 1998's American Water. The seamless interplay between Berman's
frank, laconic drawl and Malkmus' uniquely inventive riffs is what made those
records so special.
Bright Flight, while competently played -- and, in the case of the lone
instrumental, "Transylvania Blues", raucously executed -- lacks the personalized
sound that made the Malkmus collaborations so special. Which can be taken to
mean that either Berman preferred to emphasize the words on this particular
release, or simply chose to go with a more clean, stripped down sound.
A little of both would appear to be the case. The language and stories
contained within the ten tracks on Bright Flight revolve around
interconnected themes of creationism ("Slow Education"), fatalism ("Time Will
Break the World") and eternal love ("Room Games and Diamond Rain"). Musically
the sound is precise, and to the point, with few ragged edges or unusual time
signatures, yet is simply not as interesting as prior Jews releases.
Bright Flight's standout track, "I Remember Me," validates Berman's
lyrical mastery by examining a pivotal moment in the life of its protagonist,
making it significant, but for all the wrong reasons: "He turned to her to ask
if she'd marry him/When a runaway truck hit him where he stood." The brilliance
of Berman's thought processes go on to take the tale in a fascinating and
completely unexpected direction. Eventually waking up from a coma, the man finds
his girl has left him, having "married a banker and gone to Oklahoma." Using the
settlement money from the accident, the character buys the truck that hit him
that fateful day, touching "the part where the metal was bent," in hopes of
somehow connecting with an alternate reality forever denied to him.
Berman pays a debt to history on "Tennessee", having a doorbell play a bar of
19th-century tunesmith Stephen Foster ("Oh! Susanna," "My Old Kentucky Home"),
and even offers a traditional, holiday-flavored track, the peppy, "Let's Not and
Say We Did".
Though not as musically inventive as earlier Jews' offerings, Bright
Flight reinforces David Berman's standing as one of the most engaging,
honest and insightful artists working today. That alone ought to merit him enough sales to keep the odd jobs at bay between albums.
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