Conor Oberst, "Upside Down Mountain" (Nonesuch)

All of Oberst's gifts align here: his empathy, unassuming melodies, sincere voice, the plain-spoken but telling lyrics. His songs are focused and aphoristic. He offers advice: "Freedom's the opposite of love," he sings in "Lonely at the Top," while in "Kick," he notes, "Pleasure's not the same as happiness." He thinks about home, connection, solitude and mortality. Producer Jonathan Wilson tries to recapture the sound of Laurel Canyon in the early '70s. Oberst exploits those aural comforts, and he allows some references: to the confidently cluttered guitars of George Harrison's hits in "Kick," to the pedal-steel-topped Neil Young in "Enola Gay." But he hasn't made a folk-pop period piece. Electronic sounds punctuate "Time Forgot," and a punky snarl of feedback finishes "Zigzagging Toward the Light." Oberst performs June 1-2 at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

Jon pareles, New York Times

streaming audio

If Merle Haggard operated in a singer-songwriter vein, he'd sound a lot like John Fulbright does on the solitary and splendid "Songs," out Tuesday but streaming at the New York Times.

Jon Bream