Abandoning the Bright Eyes moniker he's been performing under since his teens, Conor Oberst reverted to his birth name for his 2008 follow-up to 2007's Cassadaga. As he not only released the record under his own name but titled it Conor Oberst, it's hard not to think of the album as a new beginning or statement of purpose, as that's generally the case when a singer/songwriter splits from his main band, but this is such a low-key record it can't support such grand theories. But that subdued attitude is in fact a major difference between this and Bright Eyes albums, where every action tended to be over-amplified, a practice Oberst generally avoids here. Part of it is down to mere circumstance. Struck with one of his bursts of wanderlust, Oberst headed down to Mexico to cut the album, gathering together a collection of friends who he dubbed the Mystic Valley Band, a name bearing an uncanny resemblance to such '70s country-rock outfits as Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. Naturally, this is a conscious move, as much of this tight 12-track album resides firmly within the confines of classic country-rock, whether it's a mellow ramble like "Danny Callahan" or the dust-kicking "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)." These benefit greatly by the loose-limbed Mystic Valley Band, who infuse a great deal of warmth to this music, but their open-heartedness is a reflection of Oberst's subtle shift to relying on modest gestures instead of grand ones. Although he still has a tendency to shoehorn five-dollar words into every other phrase -- particularly when it comes time to write ballads -- he's not trying quite so hard here, letting his lyrics be almost as relaxed as his music. But the fact that the music does feel relaxed, even when it bears his classicist affectations, does make Conor Oberst markedly different than the music of Bright Eyes, and makes it a worthwhile project -- even if it proves to be a detour instead of a new beginning.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine