Apparently, last year’s Ruminations was just an appetizer, as Conor Oberst is back with a new, fuller record (both in sound and length). The over-an-hour-long Salutations sees him shift from solo acoustic guitar/piano sparseness to rounded out, full band arrangements. The album includes reworked renditions of all ten tracks from Ruminations, in addition to seven brand new songs.
There is a stark contrast to these songs compared to last year’s counterparts. Ruminations was stripped down and bare, and felt almost like a cry for help in its startling isolation. Instead, Salutations is amblin’ Americana rock, finding company with organs, strings, accordion and percussion, as well as additional voices. Songs like “Tachycardia,” “Next of Kin” and “Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)” turn into swooning ballads, while “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out,” “Barbary Coast (Later)” and “A Little Uncanny” become torch-bearing anthems.
There are also the seven additional new songs, essentially another album’s worth of music melded together with the reimagined old ones. Salutations opens with “Too Late to Fixate,” a boozy waltz that signals the change of sonic direction coming with this record. “Overdue” is a Tom Petty-esque slow burn groove, while “Afterthought” is an authentic-sounding drinking song, complete with dancing fiddle and a rousing gang sing-along. The best of the new tunes is “Napalm,” a blistering Southern rocker with piercing organ riffs, an electric guitar-driven blues progression and raucous shout-vocals.
Conor Oberst manages to breath new life into these songs, while still retaining the earnestness and raw quality at their compositional core. As a sibling record to Ruminations, it offers comforting companionship, turning lament into nostalgia; as a stand-alone record, it is an enjoyable addition to the heavyweight veteran singer-songwriter’s canon. Salutations was certainly unexpected, but definitely welcomed.