Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band Outer South

Over his last several records, no matter the moniker, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst continuously waded further into country waters, to varying degrees of success. The (hay)seeds were more than evident on 2005's excellent I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, though its electronic counterpart, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, tempered the impact, painting Oberst as a savvy genre tourist. Outer South adds a set of tired tropes and biblical references to his latter day country sound while handing some of the songwriting duties over to band-mates. The result is a distended effort. Opener "Slowly (Oh So Slowly)" wastes an auspicious slide guitar, "Roosevelt Room" tries to substitute familiar allusions for erudition and "To All the Lights in the Windows" casts off an amiable acoustic beginning for new country foot-dragging. Even Oberst's typically literary lyrics are replaced by a pastiche of Americana touchstones (i.e., down-home locales, famine, Jesus, etc.), resulting in a convoluted, ironically arid album. (Merge)