Bright Eyes lightens up on ‘Digital,’ ‘Wide Awake, It’s Morning’

Jason C. LeRoy

Credit: Beth Rankin

Conor Oberst is one precocious little bastard.

At 24, he has been recording under the name Bright Eyes for nearly a decade, and began earning comparisons to Bob Dylan while still in his teens.

He has been held up as an icon of indie cool, and his credibility even managed to survive a relationship with serial-rock-star-dater Winona Ryder. He is valorized for his songwriting ability –— the way he combines intelligent, insightful lyrics with striking low-key melodies (hence the Dylan comparisons).

And now he’s gone and released two albums at once, lest there be any doubts as to the quality or quantity of his precocious talent. One of these two albums is I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.

A collection of heartfelt and nuanced country-folk tunes, this has already been described as Oberst’s most accessible collection yet. Indeed, if you’ve been waiting for the right time to attempt listening to a Bright Eyes album, this is it.

While Oberst certainly keeps the oddball flourishes to a bare minimum, the album does start with one. The opening track, “At the Bottom of Everything,” begins with Oberst telling a story of sorts with no musical backing; but if you make it through those 90 seconds, you’re set for the rest of the album.

Another possibly divisive element of this CD is the vocal contribution of folk-country legend Emmylou Harris on three tracks. Since Harris and Oberst both have very distinctive sounding voices, the two are not necessarily a natural fit for harmony singing.

So does Oberst warrant those Dylan comparisons? On this album, I would definitely have to say yes. Not only is the album stylistically like Dylan, but Oberst’s lyrics have the same restless, wordy momentum.

While listening to the college-aged Oberst has the potential to make the rest of us in his age group feel like unaccomplished sacks of excrement, it is nonetheless recommended, particularly with this lovely and evocative new album.

Contact pop arts reporter Jason C. LeRoy at [email protected].