Conor Oberst – Salutations review

Secret Meeting score: 83

by Philip Moss

Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes have, somewhat, passed me by. After reading favourable reviews at the time, I’d listened fleetingly to his 2005 double releases of ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’ and ‘Digital Ash in a Digital Urn’, and once been given a CD-R of 2007’s Cassadaga (which I’d quite liked). Bar that I’ve never really invested any time in him. But, on seeing his announcement for last summer’s Green Man festival, I was intrigued enough to give his set a chance. After all, festivals can be great places to catch bands and artists you may not go and see when they tour, that you’ve either never heard of before or – in this case – not focused much attention on.

So, fast forward to five minutes before Conor’s stage time and the heavens opened, like I’ve never witnessed before. Stood in front of the stage is a sea of waterproof jackets and umbrellas. But it’s drifting and many of those who were waiting have disappeared to seek shelter, back in their tents. Thankfully though, my intrigue is strong enough to stick it out. Despite my normally trustworthy North Face springing leaks and the slanted rain stinging my face.

By this point, you may be asking what has this got to do with Salutations being your album of the year? Well, let me explain. Conor strolled on and, due to my lack of knowledge of his back catalogue, played what felt like a greatest hits set. Brilliant song after brilliant song; wonderful lyric after wonderful lyric. Tune after tune filled with rich imagery and beautiful melodies. A great set, that could so easily – due to the conditions – have descended, liked the weather, into a bit of a damp squib. Conor, however, had other ideas and was ray of much needed sunshine on a soaked Sunday afternoon.

Fast forward again and on the basis of the festival set I ordered a vinyl copy of Salutations. I’d read online that it was a full band recording of the record, Ruminations, that had been released last year, which I remembered picking up good reviews. But I must admit, it made me wonder why would you release the same record twice? No matter how good the songs are. So, the record arrived and I dropped the needle. Then something strange happened. I was transported, back to the feeling of slanted rain stinging my face; to the clammy feeling of my waterproof jacket sticking to my skin.

I’d heard these songs before. Almost all of them in fact and I was confused. I’d never listened to this record, but it felt so familiar. How? As it turns out, Conor had indeed played a greatest hits set that afternoon. And these were those hits. Salutations – a record filled with brilliant song after song; wonderful lyric after wonderful lyric. Tunes filled with rich imagery and beautiful melodies.

Records are as much about memories as they are about songs, but we shouldn’t let those memories cloud (pun intended) our judgements on their quality. These songs do still remind me of the first time I ever heard them – absolutely soaked in a drenched field in Wales. But brilliant songs they are, despite it being a record that has probably been overlooked by many and Conor being an artist that probably doesn’t get the respect and attention that he deserves. That afternoon in Wales opened the door for me to one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. I just wish I’d not ignored him for so long. It won’t happen again.

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