If you loved Conor Oberst’s last record, 2016’s Ruminations, you’ll probably like his new one, Salutations…but not for the same reasons. The two are essentially fraternal twins, as Oberst has remade and rerecorded Ruminations with a new band and a few additional tracks and called it Salutations.
Ruminations found Oberst recovering from health issues, alone in a brutal Omaha winter and creating some of the rawest work of his career. It was a pared down, deeply personal solo record that was highly praised, but it was not his original intention to make it that way. Oberst wanted to assemble a band to play his songs, and with Salutations, that is what he’s done. Joined by The Felice Brothers, and with appearances from M Ward, Gillian Welch, and Jim James (to name a few), Salutations is the record Oberst wanted to make and offers us a different version that cannot be compared to its predecessor.
Salutations is a rollicking rock and roll record with Oberst shouting fiery vocals (“Napalm” and “Anytime Soon”), crafting buoyant pop harmonies (“Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out”) and flexing his folksier muscles (“You All Loved Him Once”). As a standalone, it is a full-bodied, if lengthy, celebratory record, and it helps to enjoy it more when viewed this way. Oberst still has the same pain buried in his voice, only this time, he’s backed up by the support of a truly fantastic group of musicians. The two records should be viewed as separate works, and when they are, they’re starkly different. Oberst finds joy in the darkness of his songwriting by collaborating on big, layered arrangements.
Out of context, it could be viewed as self-indulgent to remake a record you put out less than a year ago, but ultimately, both are great and both deserve our attention. Ruminations offered us a glimpse into Oberst’s personal struggles and shined a spotlight on his demons. But Salutations breathes live into his songs and serves as a reminder of why we’re still listening.