Outer South ranges from train-hopping folk ballads to galloping country ditties to greased-up garage rock. It preens itself on pop-perfect social commentary in “Roosevelt Room” and then dillydallies superficially on the outer banks of biblical myth in “To All the Lights in the Window.”
Such musical sprawl isn’t a bad thing, but it can spread an album thin. The problem mostly lies with Conor Oberst sharing the spotlight with three other musicians who write and sing well enough, but don’t yet possess his popular status and, as a result, fair or not, seem out of place.
The album isn’t a totally discombobulated effort. But certain songs, like Nik Freitas’ “Big Black Nothing”—a rolling, minor key tune that evokes a combination of Bright Eyes and Old 97s—outsmart most of the other tracks.
Oberst’s penchant for passing judgment on the world of man can often be annoying, especially with such lines as, “There’s nothing sadder than a lynching mob/Full of rational men who believe in God.” But when he pleas for “carrying away the misery” by appealing to the “birds in the chimney” and “whales on the beach,” his refreshing imagery single-handedly illuminates his message to the world a lot more sincerely.
Conor Oberst plays the Wilma Theatre Monday, June 22, at 8 PM. $25/$23 advance.