It’s easy to see why people like Conor Oberst. Okay, it’s easy to see why girls like Conor Oberst. He has that dreamy Johnny Depp meets Peter Petrelli `hair over the face’ puppy dog look to go along with his `deep artist’s sensibilities.’ I don’t begrudge him any of that. He’s an incredibly talented guy and I like his music, his lyrics and what he has to say. This doesn’t mean that everybody else has to like him, or that it’s easy to like him in general. In fact, I’d venture to say that if Oberst looked like Tom Petty, Bright Eyes may not be as popular as they are today. Oberst’s voice polarizes audiences. His quavering and emotional vocals are either loved or hated. So, how easy would it be to like a guy who is over a decade older than Conor and has the same quavering voice? Oberst’s Team Love label is betting that it’s easier than you might think by releasing another album from one of Oberst’s influences, one David Dondero.
David Dondero has been making music since 1993, and in doing so, heavily influenced a fledgling Conor Oberst’s singing style. While Conor rose to indie stardom, Dondero floundered in obscurity, going from label to label with each successive release. He’s found a home in the label started by his padawan learner, and his new album is called Simple Love. And, guess what? It’s pretty darn easy to like David Dondero. “The Prince William Sound,” being the first song you hear from Simple Love, fits right in with the Team Love family. Dondero is somewhat of a wandering minstrel, and his songs namecheck a lot of the places he’s been, cementing his `narrators’ as traveling vagabonds. The similarity in the voices of Dondero and Oberst are obvious immediately, and even more so in particular phrasings and words. The title track is probably the closest thing to an actual Bright Eyes track on the album.
But, Dondero’s music takes on far more of a weathered, bluesy feel than Oberst’s twangy folk. There is a definite folk presence on Simple Love, but it’s as if Oberst is sad, yet hopful, while Dondero drowns his sorrows in alcohol, finds out his lover cheated on him with his sister, and someone then kicked his puppy. Okay, maybe it’s not that dire, but there’s way more of an edge to Dondero than there is to Oberst. That edge is apparent in songs like “Stuck on the Moon” where he calls Oakland `the city of pain,’ and in “You don’t Love Anyone,” where he croons to his girl, “You’re so beautiful, you are so beautifully dull, you got the perfect face, but inside yourself, you got nothing at all.” Ouch.
It’s true, I fell into the trap that most reviewers are going to fall into. The fact that this guy influenced one of the most celebrated indie singer / songwriters of our time, and is now on his label is just too hard to avoid. One probably won’t ever be able to mention Dondero without at least being psychologically driven to mention Oberst. It’s like trying to talk about Sonny Bono without talking about Cher. There is one way around it, however. I’ve had a lot of friends who have had trouble liking Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst. It’s a good thing that I can tell then now about David Dondero. You see, loving his music is simple.