Conor Oberst Finally Delivers The Great Album We’ve Been Waiting For

Conor Oberst’s new album Salutations doesn’t hit the shelves until March 17, but I’ve heard three of its tracks and can already say with confidence that it’s his best work since Cassadega and likely to be one of the best albums of the year.

I had high hopes for his album from last year Ruminations, and while it was a fine collection of songs, I found the spare, solo instrumentation to be a little claustrophobic. The truth is that a voice and a solo instrument can’t always carry a great lyric properly, and this is especially true when the voice is as quirky as Oberst’s.

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So he’s done something pretty interesting on the new one. He’s taken the 10 songs from Ruminations and dressed them up with full band treatment, adding seven new songs for good measure. It’s kind of like a re-do and as far as I’m concerned it’s a smashing success, giving the older songs a power and a glory they didn’t have before.

And it’s not just any band that Oberst works with here, it’s probably the best group of musicians that he has ever played with, including The Felice Brothers, Jim James, M. Ward and Gillian Welch. But here’s the pièce de résistance that puts it over the top: the album was co-produced by Oberst and Rock Giant Jim Keltner, the legendary drummer who has played with more Rock greats than just about anybody else on the planet.

Keltner is a guy who knows what makes material like this really shine, it’s right up his alley and it shows. Oberst’s music has never sounded as full and warm and resonant. In a press release he admits as much:

Jim was really the captain of the ship and the spiritual leader of the project. We leaned heavy on his 50-plus years of musical insight to get us to where we needed to be. He brought such depth and dignity to the proceedings that made everyone else involved rise to the occasion. It was a true stroke of luck that he got involved when he did.

Under Keltner’s stewardship, “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out” transforms from a melancholy lament into a raise-your-glass drinking song. “Napalm” wouldn’t have been out of place on Highway 61 Revisited, and “A Little Uncanny” builds a fantastic groove over a typically great Oberst lyric: “I miss Christopher Hitchens/I miss Oliver Sacks/I miss poor Robin Williams/I miss Sylvia Plath/Every morning’s a desert/Every night is a flood/They say a party can kill you/Well sometimes I wish it would.”

Good things come to those who wait. A collaboration with Jim Keltner very well may be the lucky accident that led to the best album Conor Oberst ever made. I think it can’t miss.

Photo: by danisabella from San Francisco, CA (DSCF9419 Uploaded by clusternote) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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