Conor Oberst - Salutations (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Conor Oberst

Salutations (2017)

Nonesuch Records

Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing Conor Oberst’s album, Ruminations, an album written after a health scare and some doctor-ordered rest, and which was recorded over two days in his home with just a guitar, piano, and harmonica. The album’s sparse instrumentation gave it a beautifully intimate feeling. I thought he had decided that he was happy with that intimate feeling for this particular set of songs, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Apparently Ruminations was a sort of demo tape, as Oberst said that the songs on Ruminations were always meant to be played with a full band. So here comes Salutations, which contains all 10 songs from Ruminations rerecorded with a full band, plus seven new songs.

Compared to the last full-band album Oberst released, 2014’s Upside Down Mountain, Salutations is far less pop and much more folksy. I mentioned in my Ruminations review that the comparisons between Oberst and Bob Dylan aren’t as unfounded as people make them out to be. On Salutations, the Dylan influences are not only present, they seem to be front and center. “Napalm,” the album’s best new song, sounds eerily like a more hard-rockin’, fast-paced version of Bob Dylan’s “On the Road Again,” and I don’t think that was an accident. The Ruminations songs all become fuller and richer than they were on the former album. “Gossamer Thin” and “Mama Borthwick (A Sketch)” become somehow more delicate with a full band, but probably the shining moment is “A Little Uncanny,” Ruminations’ title track, which becomes even more powerful on Salutations.

While all of the songs from Ruminations are beautifully transformed on Salutations, and the new songs are all at least good, at 17 tracks and 67 minutes, the album starts to drag, and we start to wonder why it was necessary to add seven more tracks to a ten track album, with several of the tracks feeling like filler in an album that was already full. Still, there’s a great deal of beauty and majesty on Salutations, you just might have to skip through a few tracks to get there.