August 13, 2003

tractor kings 'gone to heaven'

Good things come to those who wait. Sometimes, you've gotta be patient. That's certainly the case with Tractor Kings' second album, Gone to Heaven. Tractor Kings' mastermind Jacob Fleischli's voice is an aquired taste, but once you grow use to it, you'll realize that his songs are quite...magical. If you think "man, this guy sounds like Bob Dylan," you aren't alone. It's quite obvious that Fleischli has a Zimmerman fetish; his singing style is not merely indebted to Dylan, it owes almost everything to him.

No worries, though; Dylan never made music this spaced out. Dylan didn't have Matt Talbot on guitar and as a producer, and Talbott--known for his wonderful production skills as well as his own well-loved band Hum--makes this affair quite...different. It's hazy and fuzzy and rather trippy, but Gone to Heaven never really loses its way from the country-rock road. Sure, it gets a little spaced-out and even a bit shoegazer on "Beautiful Night" and "My Old Ways Are Gone," but those are brief moments; the A.P. Carter cover of "Little Moses" is actually quite revealing; despite his trippy tendencies, Fleischli's a rather traditional-based singer/songwriter. A little folky, even. "Goodnight" mixes elements of post-and folk- and country-rock and it makes you wonder, "what is this?"

While it's true that Fleischli's vocal range is actually quite limited, it never really hinders Gone to Heaven. Sure, some might easliy be put off by his singing style, but letting something as minor as his vocal technique get in the way of the songs would be wrong. After all, if Lou Reed and Bob Dylan can do it, why can't Jacob Fleischli? If I had to offer one word of advice to Fleischli about his music, it's this: get weirder with the instrumentation. When you're straightforward, you're pretty good; When you're weird, you're mindblowing and disturbing and thought-provoking and everything Reed and Dylan used to be at your age.

Admittedly, Gone to Heaven isn't for everyone. If you find off-kilter, slightly off-key singing annoying, this album will most likely make you cringe...which would be too bad for you, as you'd be missing out on some highly original, interesting music. Gone To Heaven finds Fleischli at a nice crossroads with his music; his ideas here are indicitive of a songwriter whose time has yet to come.

--Joseph Kyle

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