Mike Oberst is a father, husband, songwriter, and Tiller from the West Side of Cincinnati, and plays with The Tillers. He will be releasing his second solo record this Saturday, and it has been bestowed upon me to review it. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mike for many years now, and if ever there were a champion for folk music then it would be him. I met him in 2006 in an apartment up the street from The Crow’s Nest. Sitting on a couch with a hoodie over his head he was passed a guitar and what came out of that has been a lasting friendship for all these many years, and a whole lot of songs that in a few words are simply good.
Six Feet of Earth is eleven tracks that from start to finish took me to different places but kept me grounded. “Gypsy Davy,” a song by Woody Guthrie, now I’ve heard this song done by The White Stripes and some local bands and everyone in between. However, Mike’s version captures something a little more lonesome. Rather, there’s a longing within the song that Mike was able to convey that I’d never really heard before. We go from there to “Who Killed Poor Robin,” when I heard this, I immediately thought this is like the exact opposite of the timeless classic “Froggy Went a Courtin’.” Keeping with the animal theme probably one of my favorite tracks “The Derby Ram” had me rooting for the ram, and I even tipped my cap as if to say nice work Mike.
It is the title track for me that truly encapsulates many feelings we have going on right now. “Six Feet of Earth” is a song that to sum it up simply means that in the end it does not matter how rich or how poor you are. As we are all the same under six feet of earth. There’s something else as well, that if we can look beyond our things and try to see each other for who we are that maybe we can be better to each other. This song is the definition of folk, I believe, in that it is for “us.” Now this is simply what I think when you listen to it you might hear something different. And, in the end that is what is most beautiful about any music.
Mike most recently offered up a video of “Up on the Roof” the classic song from The Drifters. With Clyde Brown and Kate Wakefield accompanying Mike they turn this classic into something a little more subtle and stripped down. The closing track which I will not name I will simply say that it gave me the warm chill. The goosebumps ran up my spine and down my arms and got me to water my eyes a little and for that I thank you Mike.
Lest we forget to talk about the instruments that are like the spices that make for something delicious. We’re talking cello, bagpipes, harmonica, guitar, banjo, sitar, spoons, a yell, and probably one of my most favorite takes on the record was the accordion solo on the title track. Mike enlisted the help of all kinds of players on the record and most notably is Kate Wakefield who can be heard throughout the record, and by her own right is an extremely talented musician. She is in a band called Lung, and I highly recommend checking her out whenever you can. Their styles complement each other like the icing on a cake.
Mike sent me the link to the record about a week ago, and upon receiving it I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. Track to track for the entire 45 minutes or hour or whatever it is because honestly time gets lost for me when I’m listening to this, just makes me smile. Mike has done something with this record that sticks. Over and over I listen because each time I hear something new like in “Derby Ram” when on the first listen I backed it up because I thought I heard spoons, and yep I think I did. Mike and I have not had a conversation about this record. So, all of this is what I took upon listening to it, because if I were to talk to Mike about the record we could probably talk for hours. He’s got kids, a wife, and a band and I wouldn’t want to take him from any of that. I would like to say that in the end after all these listens I highly recommend it. Because, it is simply good. And, I would also like to give a shout out to Johnny Bonnel of the Swingin’ Utters who Mike tracked down and had him do the artwork. I would refer you to an Instagram post by Mike where he explains it. Go listen to the record, and hopefully you take the time and go out to The Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY this Saturday October 12th at 8pm and check him out as well. If you cannot make it, then find a way to get this record into your ears and your soul will be eternally grateful.