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Album review: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band's 'Outer South'

April 27, 2009 |  5:44 pm

Outer_south_240_ "Outer South," Conor Oberst’s new dusty rock caravan with the Mystic Valley Band, doesn't have a single sulky teenager sentiment in it, not one diary-cribbed confession that would prompt the parents to hide every liquor bottle in the house and speed-dial the family therapist.

Oberst is nearly 30 now but "Outer South" pleads a case for the onetime wunderkind to get back in touch with the affection-starved, ragingly insecure teenager he was in the early days of Bright Eyes, the marquee band of Saddle Creek's now-matured Nebraska scene.

The 16 songs vary in tone, from grease-and-nicotine-stained jams to spit-shined ballads, but too little of it is adroit enough in construction or execution to stick in the craw. Even "Roosevelt Room," Oberst's stab at Dylanesque political outrage, flames too brightly with no gradations.

If only Oberst had seared more of his sirloin-steak country-rock with a fraught sense of place, the "Outer South" of his title that's left largely unexplored. "Cabbage Town" is named for a bohemian enclave in Atlanta, the symbolic city of the gentrifying South caught between multilane highways and neon-sign honky-tonks, a place where the foul-mouthed baby artists gather to play cards and take drugs in the old shotgun houses.

When Oberst sings over dive-bar-sloppy keys, "I'm going to love you like the New South," it's not exactly a compliment, but he does mean forever -- big-box stores and all.

-- Margaret Wappler

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
"Outer South"
Merge Records
Two stars