Label: Merge Records Release date: 05/05/09 Website: http://www.conoroberst.com/ The cost of being prolific is that inevitably you will burn yourself out. During the course of Conor Oberst’s musical odyssey he seems to have quickly advanced from a twenty something thoughtful troubadour, to a jaded journeyman. His world weary vocals have gotten wearier. His bristling barbs of poetic heartfelt venom are getting a little bit blunter. He seems to be going through the motions, with some of the rot evident in last years eponymously titled release Conor Oberst An antidote to this minor flat line that has recently developed in an otherwise incredibly consistent back catalogue would be to produce an album that is, what you might call back on form. Unfortunately Outer South is not that album. Outer South is already being billed as the album where Conor lets some of the other guys in the Mystic Valley Band have a go in front of the microphone. The most recent Weezer record indicated that this is never a wise move. Let the front man and chief songwriter do his business, let the players play. What you get is something that comes across like a pale homage to The Band, when Richard Manuel, Rick Danko or Levon Helm would take turns to deliver lead vocals, or maybe even a flawed CSN&Y record; something that’s real hit and miss. Instead of getting a flavour of the talents and personalities of the Mystic Valley Band, it reinforces a view that Outer South is a collection of studio outtakes; the album lacks structure. Let’s now take a look at Conor’s cohorts. Taylor Hollingsworth has a horrid nasal delivery, the moog infused ‘Air Mattress’ is only slightly bearable than album closer ‘Snake Hill’, an abhorrent song that really does bring the album to an anti-climatic end. Bassist Macey Taylor is uninspired on ‘Worldwide’, he sings like I do when I’m in the shower… badly. Drummer Jason Boesel makes an admirable effort with ‘Difference is Time’ yet is a let down on ‘Eagle On A Pole’, a song that appears to be an in-joke, oblivious and irreverent to those out of the tight knit circle. Nik Freitas is a revelation on ‘Big Black Nothing', he sounds like a chirpier, poppier version of Figure 8 era Elliott Smith, and excels on the piano driven ‘Bloodline’ despite the song sounding like the theme song from a middle of the road American sitcom. I suppose one good thing that comes from Outer South will be that Nik Freitas will get a whole bunch of new fans. This is still the Conor Oberst show, and the other guys are merely distractions before the main event, the D12 to Oberst’s Eminem. Alarmingly he gets off to a rather uninspired alt-country start in the shape of 'Slowly (oh so slowly)', ‘Nikorette’ also shuffles along like some of the recent material from Neil Young, stuck in the maudlin malaise of country rock. There are some feistier numbers, in the form of the rocking ‘Roosevelt Room’, a “tear gas riot song” that is anti-Bush, but since we are now in the age of Obama the song seems a little dated. Oberst also turns his razor wit on religion, sticking it to JC on ‘To All The Lights in the Windows’ “That’s the thing about Charisma / It makes everyone believe” and a rather nice reference to Moses drinking Gypsy Tea, though I always had him down as an Earl Grey man myself. ‘Cabbage Town’ is a nice slice of pop, verging on Paul Westerberg territory. The stripped down acoustic call and response of ‘Ten Women’ is also pleasant. Though there are only two standout tracks on Outer South. The haunting ‘White Shoes’ is sparse and engaging. Penultimate track ‘I Got The Reason #2’ is a seven minute wonder. To stave off creative block and complacency Oberst has continued to dabble around in various bands, collaborated frequently and likes to operate under different monikers, he’s kept busy, though this time there seems to be a distinct lack of focus. A few of the tracks on this album are over long, and Outer South is ultimately a bunch of odds and ends, you certainly couldn’t call it an album, more a loose collection of songs. You wonder if Oberst is better off taking some time out, recharge his batteries for a bit and come back with something fresh, biting and inspired. There is little evidence to suggest he will do this, and by the year end we will almost certainly hear something new from one of the great songwriters of our generation. Outer South is probably a minor bump in the road that in years to come we might call his Knocked Out Loaded or Old Ways. Rating: 6/10