Conor Oberst: songwriter savant, indie-rock pinup...Traveling Wilbury? It certainly sounds that way on the 27-year-old singer's seventh Bright Eyes album (he's been recording since he was 14). Whereas 2005's breakthrough I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning incorporated folk and country influences Emmylou Harris sang on several tracks it was also immersed in the narcotic-soaked urbanism of New York City. Cassadaga, on the other hand, goes in search of a (perhaps imaginary) heartland redolent of roadside bars and dusty truck stops exotic American locales like the title town, a central Florida enclave known for its concentration of psychics. Musically, it's his richest album yet, full of Nashville twang and Branson brassiness. And lyrically, the itinerant-traveler conceit is intriguing, even though its sweeping scope lacks the almost masochistically intimate power of earlier material.
Oberst, always precocious, clearly has the knack for a strong hook and a well-turned phrase (see ''Hot Knives'' and ''Classic Cars''). Still, Cassadaga's sound is at times too mature a staid boomer suit fit too loosely on his Gen-Y frame. (An exception? ''Make a Plan to Plan to Love Me,'' a Spector-tinged dream of girl-group coos.) Guests like Gillian Welch and M. Ward lack the impact of Emmylou; their contributions are quieter, if no less accomplished. And that's okay: In the end, Cassadaga is about Oberst and the country that made him.