Album Review

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, 'Outer South'

May 4, 2009
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Indie Rock
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band Outer South
ESSENTIAL "White Shoes"
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band open for Wilco at LeLacheur Park in Lowell July 11.

When Conor Oberst has something to say, he doesn't waste time getting the message out. A wunderkind who burst out of Omaha in the early 1990s with various bands, most notably Bright Eyes, Oberst is now 29 years old and delving deeper into a cosmic strain of '70s country-rock (more Bob Dylan circa "Desire" than Gram Parsons). "Outer South" is his second release with his Mystic Valley Band, not even a year after 2008's self-titled album. It feels a little too soon for this overstuffed, 16-song collection where Oberst's cutting social commentary is dropped into a maelstrom of charging guitars and barroom backing vocals. Comparisons to Dylan are tiresome, yet it's hard to shake them on several of the songs that ape his apocalyptic imagery and vocal tics (the way Oberst drawls the word "fantasy" on "Ten Women" verges on parody). Oberst farms out some of the lead singing to his bandmates on songs they wrote, but none of them are quite as strong as Oberst's compositions. It's telling that the most compelling song here, "White Shoes," is the one that strips Oberst down to his essence with just his guitar and walls of reverb. (Out tomorrow) JAMES REED