Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band (5 stars)

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Conor Oberst

(Wichita)

COUNTRY ROCK

It’s been just over a year since he put out Cassadaga with Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst is at it again, conjuring up songs that sound like instant modern classics. This album (staggeringly the 18th of his career) finds the highly prolific troubadour returning to the more stripped-down sound of his early material. In fact, on certain tracks you can even hear the tape hiss and the crickets chirp from the Mystic Valley Band’s outdoor recording sessions on the porch of their villa in southern Mexico.

Most compelling, though, are the clever lyrics on display, which this time come cloaked in woozy twangs, plonked pianos, gritty rock n roll and stark acoustic numbers making these offerings some of the most intelligent and soulful Oberst has ever penned. From beautifully warm opener ‘Cape Cañaveral’ to the bluesy ‘Moab’ and ‘Get-Well-Cards’ and ‘I Don’t Want to Die (in the Hospital)’ and the fast and furious stomp of ‘NYC-Gone, Gone’, the band (which includes members of Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley) take us through beguiling tales of romantic encounters, blackly comic musings on mortality, astral planes and cosmonauts.

After a couple of solo efforts in the mid-90s, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band marks this much-loved Omaha singer-songwriter’s first attempt at a self-titled album in 13 years, while Mike Mogis takes a break. He recently admitted to The List that he was terrified to be making music without the longtime Bright Eyes collaborator, but he needn’t have worried – you’ll be hooked on this remarkable piece of work from first listen.

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