Release Date: Mar 17, 2017
Genre(s): Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Folk
Record label: Nonesuch
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Growing up is hard to do. Growing up a wunderkind in public - your youth commodified as a talisman of sensitive youth - creates an odd torque to the transition. For Conor Oberst,"transitioning" into adulthood for the last decade, Salutations voyeurs into the black hole of cynicism and debauchery his alt-pop stardom made inevitable. A pastiche of rejectionist Dylan, subdued Westerberg, Woody Guthrie-esque Springsteen, droll Prine and the Mumfords mainlining the Big Pink-era Band, Salutations expands Oberst's raw scratch solo Ruminations' 10 songs into a messier, more glorious celebration of squalor and self-indulgence with a self-loathing chaser.
I'm sure there are some Conor Oberst fans who feel mildly dismayed - some perhaps affronted - by the release of Salutations. Billed as a 'companion piece' to last year's sparse, superb Ruminations, it features every song from that record in full-band iteration alongside seven new numbers. Thing is, though, Salutations is an absolute treat. What's more, it makes for a completely different kind of listening experience from Ruminations - quite the achievement, given that over half of its songs can be found on the earlier set.
L ast October's Ruminations comprised intimate solo versions of 10 songs Conor Oberst had initially planned to record with a full band. Five months on, and those fleshed-out versions - recorded with the Felice Brothers and drummer Jim Keitner, and boosted by a further seven tracks - now follow. In some instances, the fuller arrangements have a transformative effect: in particular, Counting Sheep's newfound warmth offsets much of its lyrical bleakness.
When Conor Oberst released 'Ruminations’ last October, it wasn't quite the record he set out to make. Recorded in just 48 hours with nothing but his voice, piano, guitar and harmonica, what was originally intended as the record's bare bones became its fully realised form. The result was arguably his most honest work to date, but while the world was singing his praises, he forged ahead with his plans to record with a full band.
A companion album to 2016's Ruminations, Salutations is the fully produced, fully realized version of its skeletal predecessor. Where most artists release demos some time after the finished record hits the shelves, Conor Oberst decided to rush the monochromatic, vaguely pained versions of his 2016 compositions out first, then chose to succeed it with Technicolor renditions just a few months afterward. Salutations finds Oberst running through the same songs from Ruminations, adding seven new songs to the mix so it runs the length of a double album, all with the assistance of the Felice Brothers and ace drummer Jim Keltner.
Salutations is a difficult album to classify. On the one hand, it's a companion piece to last year's Ruminations, with Conor Oberst reworking that LP's ten solo acoustic tracks with full-band arrangements; on the other, it also contains seven new cuts, meaning that it functions as a stand-alone album, too. Despite now having full-band arrangements (courtesy of New York's the Felice Brothers, plus journeyman drummer Jim Keltner), none of the songs sound radically different here than they did on Ruminations. The tasteful country rock performances are faithful to the melancholic tone of Oberst's songs, and the instrumentation (which includes accordion, fiddle and electric guitar) enhances rather distracts from the words and melodies.
Conor Oberst never shies away from shifts in sound, but his constant has always been the unabashed candor of his poetry. Salutations has some of Conor's most downhearted lyrics to date. Sonically, Ruminations allowed for the empty space to amplify the reflections. But, on Salutations (which contains new versions of all 10 tracks from Ruminations and an additional 7 new songs), Conor brings a full backing band into the mix along with other guest musicians.
As he croons away with that weather-beaten voice and twinkle-eyed cynicism, it's easy to forget Conor Oberst is only 37. A ubiquitous figure on the indie scene for decades, the man from Nebraska has released roughly an album every year since his 1993 debut. Having used various musical incarnations, Salutations finds him under his own name again for 17 mostly rollicking songs.
Last October, Conor Oberst released his fourth solo record, Ruminations. He wasn't supposed to. He had a slew of songs written and, during an especially bleak Nebraskan winter, had demoed them over the course of 48 hours - just his voice, the acoustic guitar, the harmonica and the piano. He sent these sketches to his label, Nonesuch, just to let them know where he was at; after all, he'd been through a particularly turbulent time in his personal life not long before.
If it doesn't seem that long since Conor Oberst's last solo album, it's not - the devastatingly gorgeous Ruminations was released in October 2016. Except that record was technically the demos for this record. As such, Salutations features the 10 songs of that last long player fleshed out by a band that includes The Felice Brothers and drummer Jim Keltner, plus cameos from the likes of Maria Taylor, M Ward and Gillian Welch (among many others), as well as seven other songs.
Conor Oberst sounded almost painfully alone on last year's poignant Ruminations. His voice ragged and accompanied only by piano, acoustic guitar, or harmonica, all of which he played himself, the singer-songwriter took 48 hours amid Omaha's bleak winter to record rough sketches of songs that were ultimately released in their stripped-down form. With Salutations, Oberst gets the chance to flesh out those songs with a full band, with robust, country-infused arrangements featuring a bevy of guest musicians.
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