Conor Oberst’s music is a testament to the power of palpable emotion in a singer’s voice. Whether it’s a fiery political statement or a soft ballad to a lost love, the passion and pain in Oberst’s lyrics are guaranteed to stick with you. The cracks and breaks in his delivery make Bob Dylan comparisons almost cliche at this point, but not without good reason. This has carried through all of Oberst’s projects, including his indie folk powerhouse Bright Eyes, his punk folk outfit Desaparecidos, the short-lived supergroup Monsters of Folk, and more recently his solo work.
On his most recent album, Ruminations, Oberst stripped down his sound as bare as possible. Using only an acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica, and delivered one of his best projects yet. A master of storytelling, few singers paint as vivid and heart-breaking pictures with their words. Here are some highlights to expect at his March 19 show at the Cox Capitol Theatre. Be sure to bring a box of tissues.
“A Little Uncanny”
Re-recorded with a full band for his yet to be released, Salutations (March 17), this Ruminations highlight is a perfect example of Oberst’s ability to weave an engaging, thought-provoking narrative while still being able to really rock out.From detailing how Jane Fonda became a “symbol for a pain she never knew,” to musing about how Ronald Reagan made him “read those Russian authors through and through,” to the killer final verse, the lyrics still stand out on this re-vamped lead single.
“You Are Your Mother’s Child”
This soft, acoustic ballad from Oberst’s 2014 solo album Upside Down Mountain, is a real tear-jerker. A reflection on growing-up from the perspective of a seemingly absent father singing stories and advice to his child, lines like “tears will dry if you give them time, life’s a roller coaster keep your arms inside,” really bring the song home.
As far as folk ballads go, there are few that hit as hard as this classic from Bright Eye’s 2007 album Cassadaga. The country-twang of the chorus mixed with the apocalyptic imagery is just as relevant today as it was back when was first released.
One my favorite albums of all time, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, has a plethora of memorable songs, but this rendition of “Lua,” with the addition of the lovely ladies of First Aid Kit and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, is really something special.
“At the Bottom of Everything”
Conor Oberst does more with a simple four-chord folk song than most people manage in their careers. Another classic from I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, the album opener starts with a short story about a plane crash before kicking into some heavy critiques of American ideals and tropes. He’s been ending all of his recent lives sets with this one so learn all the words now and catch me at the Cox Capitol on March 19 screaming every word at the top of my lungs.
Catch Conor Oberst at the Cox Capitol Theatre in Macon, GA on March 19th. More info here.