As their rather tongue in cheek moniker suggests, though, Monsters Of Folk are no loose collective of solo-shredding prima donnas. In fact, half the band sport beards on the album sleeve, and it’d be a fair bet that three-quarters are also wearing cardigans.
More importantly, this particular supergroup can trace its roots all the way back to 2004, when they put together many of the compositions on display here and took them on the road under the same flippant title. Five years later, the album arrives, minus the obligatory Bob Dylan covers.
Monsters Of Folk are Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes fame, My Morning Jacket‘s Jim James and singer-songwriter M Ward (who makes up half of She & Him with actress Zooey Deschanel). Impressed? Intrigued? Of course.
And while you may think such a line-up would threaten to out-introspect one another at every given opportunity, their collaborate work in this instance is finely balanced between bright, breezy folk melodies and more reserved slow burners; between solo efforts, turn-taking and harmonising. The result is compelling.
Opener Dear God (Sincerely MOF) sees the outfit set out their stall with Shins-esque modality; its light hip-hop beat augmented neatly with delicate harp strokes, the maudlin vocals shared equally between Oberst, James and Ward.
Lead single Say Please is just as striking, its heartily strummed surge reading like the cross between an updated Drive-In Saturday and a long lost session track by – fittingly – another supergroup, The Travelling Wilburys. Rousing, to say the least.
Other album highlights – and there are plenty across Monsters Of Folk’s 15 tracks – include Oberst’s beautiful Temazcal; its tenderly wrought pre-Hispanic imagery and gentle harmonies evidence of the man’s return to form in the face of Bright Eyes’ imminent disbanding.
Baby Boomer, one of the LP’s most truly collaborative moments, charts a humorous, infectious course through the grandest of hair-brained schemes, while Man Named Truth sees Oberst take a stab at Cash territory with authentic-sounding results.
James, meanwhile, ups the tempo with the effortlessly enjoyable Losin’ Yo Head, and Ward is outstanding on The Sandman, The Brakeman And Me, a sad ballad as traditional as it is touching.
Album closer His Master’s Voice takes credit as the standout track, its poetic falsetto, soulful crescendo and timeless sentiment rich testimony to the combined talents of men who find in one another their greatest inspiration; stripping away years of music biz grind to recover the fundamentals of what made them great in the first place.
And it is because of this collaborative rejuvenation that Monsters Of Folk is a worthwhile endeavour, a stirring album and an outfit that is as nourishing for its constituent members as they are for it.