El Obo’s Oxford Basement Collection

“With these songs, Coppenbarger has not taken a step back, but rather a step in a different direction.” -Hannah Cook

Hannah Cook
El Obo Oxford Basement Collection

out of 10

El Obo
May 5, 2011
Esperanza Plantation

Jesse Coppenbarger is an old man trapped inside a 20-something-year-old’s body—speaking only in terms of wisdom, of course. He has rebelled, he has gone to church, he has fought in Vietnam and lost his faith. He has re-found his faith, only to lose and find it again. He’s traveled the world. He’s seen the sick, he’s seen the lonely, he’s been the lonely. He’s seen life, death and growth. He has fallen in and out of love. He has heard stories and has told them. He has creased and he has stood tall, all the while, still asking questions. Coppenbarger has a soul to be reckoned with, and this shines through and through on his first solo project, El Obo, with Oxford Basement Collection.

El Obo was written over a span of seven years. Needless to say, it’s been highly anticipated. With these songs, Coppenbarger has not taken a step back, but rather a step in a different direction from his main focus, Colour Revolt. His sounds are more subdued in that his voice is not a lion’s roar, and his instrumentation is not raging. On the other hand, he blends in whimsical noises–some we can find an essence to and others that are just plain strange.

This fusion is most prominent in the sneaky “Everyone of the Hungry.” There are so many layers, it’s difficult to understand what Coppenbarger is singing, and it’s even more difficult to tell what’s going on musically. It’s comparable to those Radiohead songs you’re not sure if you like or not. If you were lucky enough to have the extended version of that song later on the album, it’s even weirder, ending in what sounds like kids playing a jazz/funk jam session in a garage after school.

Mississippi roots beam subtly in songs like “This is Love,” where church-like organs support choppy acoustics and an occasionally heard harmonica. The following “2nite” is more harmonica-driven, which is a voice in and of itself. The lyrics are metaphorically simple and lovely. “The swamp is filled with the gators / My girl is filled with the truth.”

“Drones” should most certainly not be a bonus track. It resonates unlike any other El Obo or Colour Revolt song. Fiddles and violins rambunctiously start the tune and carry on throughout, forging a theatrical presence underneath the humming. All the while, Coppenbarger asks us to “listen to the drone / on and on and on and on and on and on and on / until it’s over.” Unfortunately, it’s over much too soon, concluding at less than three minutes long. One might wish the song would go on forever.

Like most of what Coppenbarger creates, El Obo begs us to ask questions. Coppenbarger is something of a character from a novel, where we must pick at the bits to find any sort of meaning. His Oxford Basement Collection is odd at times, but comely always. Let us hope it’s not another seven years before we hear back.