Conor Oberst: Salutations (2017) – Album Review

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I’m such a fan of Conor Oberst’s alternately acid/alkali lyrics (scourging his enemies or scouring his own thoughts) that I enjoyed last year’s solo acoustic set Ruminations when I reviewed it, whereas many critics understandably didn’t. Too dirge-like, sure, but melodic enough to carry a sympathetic listener away regardless. Salutations, in contrast, is warm and welcoming to all, a full band brought in to beef up the sound and add a community atmosphere to the 10 songs originally featured on Ruminations, with 7 new ones tossed in for good measure. The backing band consists of young folk-rock maestros The Felice Brothers and 74 year-old drummer Jim Keltner, who more than holds his own in these sessions at twice Oberst’s age, and they all sound attuned to the auteur’s every warble. I agree with AllMusic and Robert Christgau that what impresses most this time around is the musicality and confident attitudinising, as opposed to the painful depths of the lyrics that were the highlight on Ruminations. When targeting Ronald Reagan on ‘A Little Uncanny’, with full band now in tow, it serves the ex-President a stinging slap to the face. Yet not all the songs benefit from the remodelling, and perhaps a few could have done with cutting from the overdosed 67 minute running time – did we really need ‘Tachycardia’ and ‘You All Loved Him Once’ yet again in this setting? Still, hard to complain all that much when you have stonking new songs such as ‘Napalm’ and ‘Anytime Soon’, which sound more Dylan than Dylan has in many a year. I’ll still play Ruminations at midnight when feeling blue. But most of the day is not comprised of midnight’s dark, luckily, and so for that reason we have all been given Salutations.

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