Conor Oberst "Upside Down Mountain"

Marriage, parenthood, and adulthood, brings a mature sense of reality to the one-time "wonderkid" of indie folk.

Conor Oberst emerged on the national music scene when he was still an adolescent, as lead singer and songwriter for the trio Bright Eyes. His songs captured the angst of his age and cast him as a spokes-boy for his generation. Since that time he’s released music, as a band member and a solo artist, ranging from brilliant to inconsistent, but always worth a listen.

Upside Down Mountain is Oberst’s first solo release since 2008. At thirty-four, married with a child, and in the midst of a very ugly lawsuit dealing with an allegation of rape, he’s looking at life from a different perspective, one that finds him in a relatively positive place. Such is maturity. He still obsesses over mortality and the flimsy grasp we have on living in the moment, but somehow he seems content to accept the inevitability of both. The album opens with that sentiment on “Time Forgot.” Oberst’s acceptance of things bigger then himself emerges on “Hundreds of Ways” on which he acknowledges his own responsibility in how life is approached. A new side of the singer is revealed on the father’s ballad “You Are Your Mother’s Child.” It’s – yes, I’ll say it – heartwarming – to see the boy grown into a man reflecting on his own child’s existence.

Oberst has been called a folk artist with alt-country elements. That description works on many of these songs but he isn’t confined to that label. He knows how to amp up the volume; consider “Governor’s Ball,” or “Kick,” songs that tick up the tempo. He’s also capable of dropping back into that spacey cloud-scape that he used effectively on Cassadaga, the 2007 release from Bright Eyes. This comes through on the last track “Common Knowledge.”

The most distinctive aspect to Oberst’s material is his voice. Ragged, disjointed in a way that makes it unpredictable, it often has seemed that he has little control of where it will go. Maturity has brought him greater regulation and perhaps a better understanding of what it is he wants to do with his vocals. There is something comforting in the imperfections, giving him an authority that allows him to speak for a generation that has left behind impulsive angst only to settle into tentative adulthood.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Host)