Conor Oberst

Salutations

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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. This full band is key to the success of Salutations. Comparing it to Ruminations, what impresses is the musicality -- robust and sinewy, Oberst sometimes seems like he's sprinting to keep pace with his band, and he's grinning that he's being outrun. Often, these moments crystallize on the new songs, songs that seemed designed for a full-throttle band, including "Napalm," where Oberst and friends replicate the thin, wild mercury sound of Bob Dylan in his mid-'60s amphetamine prime. Dylan is a common touchstone throughout Salutations but if Oberst sometimes revives the Greeenwich troubadour imitation of his earliest days, the album truly gains traction when he decides to lean into the kineticism of this band. This is the big revelation of Salutations: where Ruminations sounded like a pained howl, this is a softer, soulful record, one where the delivery matters more than the content. Stripped to the bone, these songs could seem nervy, but surrounded by fellow travelers, they feel like a balm, and that also indicates just far Oberst has traveled. He's no longer a busker preaching the truth only he knows. He's no longer so confident -- he gains confidence through collaboration -- and the result is rich and resonant, a testament to the power of communal music over solo soul-baring.

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