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Conor Oberst- S/T (Album Review)

The back story is preposterous: For his third solo album, Conor Oberst decamped to a villa near the mystical Mexican city of Tepoztlan, said to be the birthplace of the Aztec serpent god and a rallying point for UFOs.

While there, he wrote songs about Cape Canaveral, Sausalito, Calif., and New York City, and recorded them with his collaborators in what he dubbed the Mystic Valley Band.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. It’s precious to the point of pomposity, and yet … And yet “Conor Oberst” (Merge) is the richest collection of songs from Conor Oberst — via Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos, whatever — in a long time.
Sometimes hailed as the Bob Dylan of his generation, Oberst, 28, seemed to believe the label long before he had come close to earning it. He’s getting there, though.

Maybe it’s a function of getting older — he released his first album at 13 — or maybe the tranquil setting helped, but Oberst seems at ease here. He sounds as if he’s shrugged off any pressure to make a Grand Artistic Statement, resulting in songs that that play to his considerable strengths as a writer.

He spins a vivid tangle of Dylan-esque lyrics on “Get-Well-Cards,” and sings with quiet, double-tracked precision on the mournful opening track, “Cape Canaveral.”

There’s a lilting country-rock inflection in the gently rolling rhythm of “Sausalito” and the trebly guitar licks on “Moab.” Oberst turns to finger-picked acoustic guitar on the folky accusation “Lenders in the Temple” and ends the record with “Milk Thistle,” a hushed solo-acoustic taking-stock song as vast in scope as the western sky.

“Help me go slow, I’ve been carrying on,” he sings, and all the hype and expectations and ancillary rubbish recede, leaving only the sound of an earnest singer and songwriter fully coming into his own.