For the past two decades, Omaha, Nebraska singer-songwriter, Conor Oberst, known primarily for his work in Bright Eyes, has written, recorded and for the most part fronted over a handful of bands. Since the obscure, cassette-only releases preceding the first Bright Eyes disc – Water, Here’s to Special Treatment, The Soundtrack to My Movie, and Kill The Monster Before It Eats Baby, a split 7-inch with Bill Hoover (all released between the years of 1993 and 1996) – only scarcely has Oberst attached his own name to any recordings. For the better part of a decade, his birth name as a performance moniker would remain dormant until the release of what he now considers his debut album, 2008’s eponymously-titled Merge Records release. Since then, Outer South, officially credited to Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, and this year’s One of My Kind – a collection of officially un-released material, compiling the tour-exclusive Gentleman’s Pact EP and studio versions of select Mystic Valley Band originals primarily sung by the group’s auxiliary members — have followed.
Recorded during the same sessions that produced Conor Oberst in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico, the Gentleman’s Pact EP is one that embraces the heightened country twang that enveloped the self-titled debut, layered over the folk framework from which most of Oberst’s work is built on. “Gentleman’s Pact” and “Corina, Corina” explicitly channel this timbre in the simple vocal melodies and bulging organ chords of the former, and lax guitar leads of the latter. With its relaxed and breezy strokes of barroom simplicity, “Corina, Corina” makes for the most curious track this side of the compilation. A country blues traditional, most notably covered by Ray Peterson and Jerry Lee Lewis, the song relies on a 12-bar acoustic guitar riff and its continual repetition. Playing a modified version of Bob Dylan’s interpretation, this track, in and of itself, is one of Oberst’s greatest departures to date.
The remainder of the compilation, comprised of Outer South b-sides, is where the Mystic Valley Band come into their own and truly shine outside the context of Oberst’s singular presence. “Central City” and “Phil’s Song (Learn To Stop Time),” written and sung by Taylor Hollingsworth and Philip Schaffart respectively, demonstrate this confidence in their distinct portrayals of folk — Hollingsworth brings to mind a more rock and roll approach, while Schaffart implements tropical sensibilities. Both established songwriters in their own right, it’s no surprise such results were attained when given the reins.
Putting the group’s support members and their tracks aside, the record’s stand-out tracks undoubtedly come from those written by Oberst himself. Reflecting on the pitfalls of life as a successful performer, the title track oozes with a confidence seldom found outside of his short-lived, yet recently reunited post-hardcore band, Desaparecidos. Juxtaposed with a poignancy not so perfected since Bright Eyes’ Fevers And Mirrors, he laments, “I’ve got too many broke friends who think I owe them from when we were children” and wrestles with advances from those after him for his wealth, always coming to the conclusion that “all the rest aside, they’re still one of his kind.” It’s an aggressive folk number that pushes the Mystic Valley Band into what’s likely the fastest pace found on any of their recorded tracks.
Of the many directions Oberst’s prolific tendencies have taken him over the years, a proper solo effort has always seemed like the next logical step to succeed the Bright Eyes moniker. Unlikely, was the ragamuffin approach he took in incorporating a band of co-conspirators, rather than a proper back-up band, paid to simply play their respective studio parts. Although it’s unclear as to whether or not the Mystic Valley Band has concluded their tenure with Conor Oberst, One of My Kind seems to be a fitting conclusion to such a group, collecting its odds and ends into one career-capping package.
Sound Quality: Like most Team Love releases, the fidelity on One of My Kind, is outstanding, yet varies throughout it’s duration. The songs that make up the Gentleman’s Pact EP carry with them a very vintage sound, likely recorded to tape, lacking the glossier production of Outer South and its corresponding B-sides found on this collection. Be that as it may, both sides of this record resonate exceptionally on vinyl. A very full sound is found on One of My Kind.
Packaging: Housed in a double-wide single pocket jacket, the LP/CD/DVD fit comfortably in the spaciousness sleeve. A double-sided insert filled with lyrics and credits help make sense of when each song was recorded, who played what and where.
Extras: A CD version of the compilation is included, as well as a DVD of the 2009 documentary, also titled One of My Kind, which documents the formation of the Mystic Valley Band and their subsequent recording sessions and tours.
Summary: No matter what comes of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band in the future, One of My Kind will likely be looked back at as an adequate end-cap to this era of the group’s history – a collection of eclectic, sincere and band-centric songs, more so than most releases in independent music.
Make Sure To Spin: “One of My Kind,” “Kodachrome” & “Gentleman’s Pact”
You can still pick up the record over at Team Love.