Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain (Nonesuch)
Early Conor Oberst recordings show just how harsh the guy’s voice could be. His self-released debut, 1993’s Water, was particularly rough around the edges. But with the folk ensemble Bright Eyes and on his solo albums, Oberst has established himself as an artist who matters; and his voice has softened over the years too. “Time Forgot,” the gentle opener to his latest studio offering, is a beautiful ballad as Oberst’s quivering vocals convey the song’s emotional depth. Not all the songs here are so pensive. “Zigzagging Toward the Light” features call-and-response vocals and has a steady folk-rock beat, and “Night at Lake Unknown” has echoes of early Dylan. This album still won’t give Oberst the mainstream exposure he deserves — the songs are simply too introspective and devoid of hooks for that — but it’s a strong showing from an artist who continues to live up to the billing as a modern-day Bob Dylan.