Bright Eyes/ Neva Dinova – One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Saddle Creek recently rereleased this split between BrightEyes and Neva Dinova in 2010 with four additional songs but to be honest, I never listened to those extra songs. I just didn’t care. As far as I’m concerned this split has six songs because this split only had six songs when I played it to death upon its original release in 2004. Like every 17 year old in 2003, I had a deep affinity for Bright Eyes and all things Saddle Creek and, when I found out he was releasing a split with another Omaha band I’d never heard of, Neva Dinova, I immediately tracked down their eponymous debut LP and fell for it hard. While I spent the better part of my late teenage years and twenties bitching about the Midwest, I now realize how fiercely I love this place and I’ll tell you what, none of these hotshot New York City can make stuff as down to earth as folks from the Midwest. So listening to this is like slipping on an old t-shirt that has the perfect fit from being worn 100,000 times. I know these songs beat for beat and they sound as good at 27 as they did at 18. Naturally, as a sort of super fan, I’m partial to the Conor Oberst written tracks, but all six of them are mighty fine. There’s a looseness to this that you often find when two bands that really like each other get together and put something to tape. Oberst even went on record saying this was his favorite album to record, and there’s a joy that comes through on these songs that makes them special. “Black Comedy” is one of the purest distillations of Bright Eyes that you will ever hear and “I’ll Be Your Friend” is probably the most uncharacteristically upbeat Bright Eyes songs Oberst ever recorded, and there’s a crazy saxophone part that just pushes that song into the realm of total bliss. Neva Dinova contributes these wonderfully downtrodden songs that are both sad and intensely pleasant. Frontman Jake Bellows has a smooth and soulful delivery that seemed to fade on later Neva Dinova releases but his vocals on these songs hit the sweet spot. His vocals on “Get Back” turn my backbone into butter. The split’s highlight though is the closing track “Spring Cleaning,” which was written by Oberst but performed by Neva Dinova. Bellows vocals sell that song in a way that Oberst’s wouldn’t have. There’s a sweet-sadness to that track that is so perfectly suited to the Neva Dinova frontman. And it’s probably one of the best songs Oberst has ever written (although to be fair, he’s written so many great ones I’ve lost count and am probably speaking in hyperbole). Really though, I think the songwriting gets a boost from Bellows’ delivery. It shows how these two bands brought out the best in each other, and though both bands went off in different directions after this, this split remains a beautiful portrait of a time and a place in Middle America where the songs were good and pure and honest.
"Spring Cleaning" (Note: What I said about Oberst's voice not best suiting the song is easily debatable, as this live performance probably dictates, although I prefer the Bellows version. Still, it's a gorgeous song no matter which way you cut it)
"I'll Be Your Friend"