Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Outer South

Melissa Maerz

By Melissa Maerz

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Outer South

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
Conor gets free and (relatively) loose

"There's nothing that the road cannot heal," Conor Oberst once insisted. The kid knows what he sings: over his past two albums, he's recorded in Oregon, California, Nebraska, New York, Texas, Illinois, Mexico — hell, chances are he even stopped in your apartment — and it sounds like he's left a whole lot of baggage behind him. On Outer South, he's never been freer, kicking through ramblin'-man country songs ("Big Black Nothing"), jamming on Veterans 'Hall folk-rock ("Cabbage Town"), even penning a playfully out-of-character Cars-style ode to sleeping on the floor ("Air Mattress"). Gone is the one-man-band of Bright Eyes, where Oberst labored over every note with blood-from-a-stone intensity: here, guitarist Nik Freitas, guitarist Taylor Hollingsworth and drummer Jason Boesel contribute two songs apiece, and bassist Macey Taylor even sings one track. Maybe Oberst trusts that the best songs still belong only to him. With just his guitar backing him, the raw acoustic ballad "White Shoes" is a moving love song about giving a girl her freedom. As his steady voice quavers on the chorus, it's clear the emotions are real. Even vagabonds have trouble moving on.