There are tons of bands out there. On every street, in every dorm, in every city and country on the planet, there are bands. With the sheer amount of stuff out there, one is bound to make comparisons, especially in an over crowded genre like folk or alt-folk or freak-folk, the increasingly defined waters in which Michigan based songwriter Chris Bathgate navigates. In his new record, A Cork Tale Wake, Bathgate comes across as a very talented if not predictable artist. His influences –Neutral Milk Hotel, all things Jeff Tweedy (“Restless”), Will Oldham (“The Last Parade of St. Ann’s”, “A Flash Of Light Followed”) Iron and Wine (“Madison House”)– are quite obvious. This doesn’t stop Bathgate from ocassionally exceeding the craft of those he imitates, but it stops his work from being groundbreaking.
If you’re able to disregard Bathgate’s influences and appreciate his confident voice, warm sticky chords and frequently dark message, you’re likely to dig what you’re hearing, but you still might not feel the compulsion to spin the disc around a second time. It’s very hard to really tell the difference between the album’s 11 tracks, with the exception of some of the album’s more rocking songs, like “Smiles Like A Fist”. And despite the giant screaming sign posts, some songs still grab my attention, like “Madison House” and “A Flash Of Light Followed”.
To sum it up simply, Bathgate’s music is categorized by his Oldham-esque vocals, occasional Neutral Milk Hotel buzz accompanied by some extra-dressing instruments such as piano, horns and electric guitar that flavor most any Wilco record. Will this set the world ablaze? No. But is their some joy and potential locked within? Indeed there is. For right now, Bathgate is a talented guy you might see at an open mic or at a local bar. Good, but not heart-stoppingly so- maybe you’ll buy the CD on your way out at the end of the night, and maybe you won’t.