Omaha, Alaska dropped their debut self-titled LP a mere nine months ago. It was a pop-inflected, singer/songwriter confessional affair about endings and new beginnings. C. Ray Harvey’s new musical project seemed to be the baroque musical adventure we knew (or at least hoped) he’d follow up his Heaven’s Gateway Drugs tenure with.With not even a year under that debut album’s belt and Omaha, Alaska have returned with a follow-up called Visitor Center & Gift Shop. Where that debut sounded like Harvey laying out some pretty heavy personal stuff with talented friends helping him bring those tunes to life, Visitor Center & Gift Shop sounds like a looser, more rollicking version of that band. There are equal parts beer-soaked jangle and singer/songwriter fare.
There’s a more lived-in sound this time out with Omaha, Alaska. “Omaha, Alaska Pt. 2” says it all, really. It’s the gritty, barroom mirror image of that first album’s opening track. The addition of Mitch Frazier’s jangly lead guitar playing and juke joint piano rolls pushes the sound into alternative country territory. “Always Walk Uphill” has a Whiskeytown-meets-Crazy Horse vibe to it, while the excellent “Thank You (Don’t Go)” wears its heart on its sleeve. There are some Cymbals Eat Guitars moments at the end with noisy guitar squalls that lead us out of the song.
Elsewhere, “Hope” is a dusty acoustic track that is pushed along with Mellotron and Neil Young vibes. “After You Come” is pleasant like an Eels song. There’s a sweet melody above with an underlying bombast underneath. Then there’s the barn burner “Someone Should Tell You.” There’s a drunken swagger to this track that sounds as if the whole thing could fall apart at any minute. But the fact that Omaha, Alaska are professionals in this rock n’ roll game they can keep the tune swinging and swaying like a Tonight’s the Night outtake.
With Visitor Center & Gift Shop, Omaha, Alaska sound like a band on a creative bender. C. Ray Harvey has taken his songwriting vehicle and turned it into a living, breathing jangly rock n’ roll machine. Don’t be surprised if by year’s end there’s a trip-hop folk album coming from Omaha, Alaska. I know they’d pull it off beautifully. (John Hubner)