Conor Oberst's Mystic Valley Band initially seemed a bit like a busman's holiday, a way for him to throw off whatever expectations he had as Bright Eyes, a way to get a bit loose and rowdy. The Mystic Valley Band is turning into something more -- not quite a full-fledged multi-headed beast the way the Byrds were at their peak, but not Dylan pushing through the Rolling Thunder Revue as its undisputed leader, either. The Mystic River Band turns out to be a bit of an oddity: a group with a clear-cut leader that manages to seem egalitarian, particularly here on Outer South where Oberst recedes from the spotlight on a whopping six of the 16 tracks, letting his bandmates sing their own songs. This behavior is atypical for singer/songwriters, but it fits the spirit of Outer South, an album written, recorded and about the road -- a roadworn cliché that always gets reinvigorated whenever its executed with gusto, as it is here, partially due to Oberst spreading the wealth. Having three other singers here makes Outer South a bit messy, but it speaks to what makes the album work: it's about playing, not the song. Which isn't to say that there aren't good songs here, as there are -- the ratio is as strong as they were on Conor Oberst, testament to Oberst's steady work ethic paying back craftsman dividends -- but what impresses is the spirit and the sound, how the band sounds like it's consistently on the move, not quite caring whether they're taking the direct route, as long as it's scenic. Oberst himself seems swept up in the motion -- he's dropped his vocal affectations, his grandiose couplets, he's happy to be leading a group that feels like a band of brothers -- one that might not always sing in the same voice, but share a sensibility, something that gives Outer South a big human heart.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine