Editors' pick

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

Rock
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Editorial Review

Chris Richards wrote about Conor Oberst in August 2008 for The Washington Post:

The photo adorning Conor Oberst's new album captures the Bright Eyes bleater sprawled in a hammock, clad in white linen. Slouching towards Margaritaville? Not quite, but the 28-year-old singer is moving away from the melodramatic warble that defined his work as Bright Eyes. He's gone off in search of easier, breezier songscapes, emulating country-rock nomads of yore: the Grateful Dead and the Traveling Wilburys. From the jaunty "Moab" to the rollicking "I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital)," this album is brimming with travelogues and escape fantasies.

The former tune serves as Oberst's thesis statement. Over shimmering chords he proclaims, "There's nothing that the road cannot heal." It's the most declarative statement on this disc -- which says a lot coming from a dude who's made his name with emotive tirades against unrequited love and the Bush administration. On "NYC -- Gone, Gone," he sounds almost giddy about the prospect of leaving the Big Apple for Mexico (which, not so coincidentally, is where these tunes were recorded).

While Oberst searches the blacktop for salvation, his most evocative lyrics lead to water. "Get-Well-Cards" describes warm Gulf currents, "Lenders in the Temple" depicts redemptive rain showers, and the chorus of "Cape Canaveral" conjures a waterfall pouring "crazy symbols of my destiny." With Bright Eyes, Oberst's vocal exorcisms often felt like muddy torrents of confused syllables. Here, his words flow like a summer river, even and cool.