El Obo is basically the one-man side project of Jesse Coppenbarger, frontman of Mississippi rockers Colour Revolt. Varying friends and musicians—from another buzzy Miss. rock act, Flight, to Junior Kimbrough’s son (!!!), Kinney—contributed to Oxford Basement Collection, the band’s several-years-in-the-works debut record, but it’s mostly Coppenbarger, laying his anguished singing voice over a myriad of folk-influenced arrangements and experimental sounds. And it’s a great rock ‘n’ roll voice, too, one that’s moody and evocative in such a way that indicates he’s either a) seen some shit during his brief time on this planet or b) pretty good at faking like he has. Either way, this is Coppenbarger’s show, a fact that both aids and deters from Oxford Basement Collection.
On one side, you’ve got gorgeous tracks like the acoustic “Young Ones” and accomplished songs like “Vrgn Evl,” which brings to mind the finest, mature moments of Conor Oberst’s catalogue. But here too are selections like “The Ordinary Woman,” which just drags and drags, or “Everyone of the Hungry,” which sounds like it was fun to record but maybe should’ve been left on the cutting-room floor. The vision is consistent throughout, but often lacking the punch and dramatic flare of a typical Colour Revolt song.
Of course, that very well could be the point. While this record is certainly hit or miss, that’s hardly surprising. As an album, Oxford Basement Collection sounds like what its title implies, and indeed, what it is: a batch of songs roughly cut here and there in between more important things, such as Coppenbarger’s full-time band duties. Hopefully the album satisfied this particular urge and he can now get back to working on Colour Revolt songs.