The obvious points of comparison for Monsters of Folk—the first group outing for Matt “M” Ward, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes—are to the Traveling Wilburys and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. But Monsters of Folk is a more sonically diverse album than those comparisons might suggest. From the trancey vocal mix and percussion loop on opener “Dear God (Sincerely, M.O.F.)” to the honky-tonk rave-up of the politically charged “Baby Boomer,” the album gives its would-be supergroup opportunity to showcase the full breadth of their individual influences. That works in the band’s favor, as it keeps Monsters from succumbing to the dreary monotony and self-importance that sink so many contemporary folk records. The country flourishes on Ward’s “Whole Lotta Losin’,” which boasts a killer baritone guitar loop, and “A Man Named Truth,” on which Oberst does his best Johnny Cash-style recitation, work especially well. It’s also a credit to the talents of each man that no one steals the spotlight, though the cock-eyed optimism of “Ahead of the Curve” bears Oberst’s trademark wordplays and may be the best song in his catalogue. With all four players clearly bringing out the best in each other, one hopes that Monsters of Folk makes for more than just a one-off side project.
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