The Saddle Creek 50 compilation takes pause to commemorate the first 50 records put out by this burgeoning label, showcasing one album track and one previously unreleased track by 11 of their artists. It also has a collection of home movies documenting special moments in the histories of the bands and the label. It might not be that hard for any label to put together the two best tracks by a couple of bands from their stable and have it sound decent. But what this record shows is the depth and range of the bands on Saddle Creek — especially considering the label is still in its infancy.
Reading more like a family tree than a collection of disparate groups, Saddle Creek, comprised of a group of bands that swaps players like trading cards, is more a family than a label. Both Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos are fronted by Conor Oberst, media darling and Saddle Creek chief architect (along with archivist Robb Nansel), while Sorry About Dresden features his brother Matt on point. Cursive and the Good Life feature lead Tim Kasher, who has routinely been part of the extended Bright Eyes ensemble for live shows and studio recordings. Ted Stevens of Mayday fame has logged hours backing up Bright Eyes, Azure Ray, and the Good Life, and the list goes on. Ultimately it would take some kind of WOPR-generated three-dimensional matrices to fully document and explain the complex interrelationships of all the bands and members. Suffice to say, though, that they are all good friends working towards a common goal of putting out great music without compromise.
Bright Eyes’ new offering, “One Foot In Front of the Other,” is an especially poignant tune about frustration, understanding and tolerance, while Desaparecidos’ unreleased track, “Popn’ Off At the F,” is a frenzied, guitar-driven jab at American imperialism and our status as the only country to use atomic weapons against an enemy (at least so far). These two tracks alone make this record worth buying. Other notable new tracks from the Good Life, Rilo Kiley and an especially haunting new ballad from Azure Ray solidify this as a “must have” for fans of Saddle Creek.
Saddle Creek 50 not only documents the history of a label, but provides glimpses of a very bright future. While first generation fans might be disappointed by the lack of some of the label’s older material, you must appreciate the forward vision and overall quality of the effort.