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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

CD Review

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

Outer South

Merge Records

 

Rating: 3

 

With the mixed musical styles of former Bright Eyes front man Conor Oberst and the full-throttled folk back-up from Mystic Valley Band also come mixed feelings.

The band’s sophomore album Outer South, which was released on May 5, is not for creatures of habitual bouts of quivering melodies and nervous serenades, as most Oberst fans have become accustomed to. While Oberst has consistently shown an ability to evolve in unexpected ways, this change is not for the better.

First off, when I put on an Oberst album, I expect to hear Oberst. Over the years, his original and ear-catching songwriting talent has astounded the musical world, winning him Rolling Stone’s pick as best songwriter of 2008. In 2005, Bright Eyes released the computer-bit sounds of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn just months after the folksy I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. Only Oberst would pull a stunt like that.

However, Outer South invites the whiney, nasal voices of Mystic Valley Members Jason Boesel, Nik Freitas and Taylor Hollingsworth to the mic for songs likeEagle on a PoleandSnake Hill,which are mostly forgettable and annoying after a few listens. And the songAir Mattressis annoying after just one listen.

On the other hand, the Mystic Valley Band’s instrumentals are a delightful accompaniment to Oberst’s musical style.Roosevelt Roomis a booming anthem for an embittered America, complete with the organ, electric guitar and wailing vocals. A folk band is an unexpected but loud and proud presence in both Outer South and the band’s previous album, Conor Oberst.

Of course there still exists that trademark vulnerable softness Oberst has both whispered and screamed since the birth of Bright Eyes. Gems likeWhite ShoesandTen Womenare entirely dynamic acoustic pieces, and are Oberst essentials. They are a sign that Oberst will never sell out, despite beingSouled Out!!!” – the name of a song on his Conor Oberst album.

Oberst’s lyrics have an air of Bob Dylan, and his vocals tell of whatever sentiment he poeticizes in his songs. He bears his soul so candidly you would think it hurts him, and his listeners can assuredly hear him purging his emotions in both acoustic and electric songs alike.

Though Oberst definitely avoided the stalemated and self-absorbed status many of his contemporaries are facing, Outer South should have left its southern hospitality at the door, and not welcomed the less likable voices of Boesel, Freitas and Hollingsworth.

 

Give these tracks a listen:White Shoes,” “Roosevelt Room,” “Big Black Nothing

For fans of: The Black Keys, Elvis Costello, Wilco

 

– Lauren Steussy

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