Conor Oberst - Salutations

by Nathan Fidler Rating:8 Release Date:2017-03-17

The most people go about releasing two versions of the same album is to release an acoustic version after the fully realised version. That’s not Conor Oberst’s bag though, since Ruminations, a soft and personal album, came out last year. Salutations is the full band version of what that album was meant to be and features The Felice Brothers as Oberst’s personal backing band this time out.

Many of the songs are the same, with a few new tracks added in for good measure. The first thing to address about these songs is that the combination of Oberst and The Felice Brothers has long been hankered for by fans. On paper it seems like a match made in heaven, and while the music is good, you never really get the sense that The Felice Brothers have added much to the music.

New track ‘Overdue’ is about as close as you’ll come to hearing their character come through on a song. There is the occasional wiry fiddle (‘The Rain Follows The Plow’), a boozy accordion (‘Too Late To Fixate’) and a generally more filled out feeling to the songs, but not the kind of collaborative excess you might have expected from such a get-together; there’s not even a duet.

As it stood, Ruminations was a pretty solid album, and this follow-up piece simply builds on that. Tracks like ‘Gossamer Thin’ and ‘Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out’ get a light beefing up - and are better for it - while ‘You All Loved Him Once’ feels relatively unchanged but borrows extra poignancy now Trump is president.

New tracks like ‘Empty Hotel By The Sea’ and ‘Salutation’ mix in well, probably because they were written around the same time as the other stuff. ‘Napalm’ is meant to be a slightly more rabble-rousing track but is actually let down a little by the backing band, it feels like a companion to ‘Roosevelt Room’ but without the ballsy guitar.

Lyrically, Oberst can run rings around most people, and while his time as this generation’s town-troubadour has given him a decent following, you can’t help but feel he misses that extra influence Mike Mogis must give. It’s good that he’s cut ties with the notion of a fixed band (The Mystic Valley Band), the hope is that he might return to a more socially critical vein remembered from I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Read Music/Speak Spanish, the kind which made him essential - especially given the political climate right now.

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