I was over the moon earlier this years when it was announced that Conor Oberst would be joined by The Felice Brothers on a new record. The fact that the record would be seven new songs mixed in with full-band versions of the songs on Ruminations didn’t bother me at all. In fact, the idea that the earlier record was almost a demo tape for Salutations makes me like that collection of songs even more. The addition of The Felice Brothers, and Jim Keltner on drums, provided me with such confidence that they could’ve just remade all the old Bright Eyes songs and I’d be okay with it.
For the most part everything works on Salutations. Some of the new versions of Ruminations songs seem to be not all that different-some added harmonies or maybe a little guitar, but nothing huge. On others, they take a good song and make it a great one. The new takes on “A Little Uncanny” and “Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)” are fantastic and really make good use of the additional band members. Others, like “Gossamer Thin,” lose some of their raw intimacy.
The new songs are all pretty consistent with the old songs as far as themes and soundscapes. Nothing seems out of place. “Overdue” is a standout from the new stuff. Ian Felice gets to showcase his guitar work a little, and the harmonies really elevate the chorus and give it some emotional resonance.
The album closer, and title track, actually sounds more like a Bright Eyes song. Oberst’s voice is loud and clear in all it’s imperfect glory. The band is mostly subdued until a beautiful steel guitar solo from Ian, followed by Conor namechecking the previous album.
In total, Salutations fully lived up to my expectations. When I saw Oberst play with The Felice Brothers (and First Aid Kit) a few years ago, it was probably the best rock and roll show I’ve ever seen. The quality of music on this record well exceeds the output of most singers who have been in the game as long as Oberst. Hopefully this is the first of many collaborations between these artists.