Let's end the confusion first. This is 28-year-old Conor Oberst's fourth solo album. Though his Bright Eyes project was essentially a solo project for over a decade, he has since made producer Mike Moggis and multi-instrumentalist Nate Walcott bona-fide members, with last year's 'Cassadaga' Bright Eyes' first effort as a three-piece.

Oberst has long proved a stunning songwriter - and hugely prolific. Aside from four solo records, he has released 10 Bright Eyes albums; two albums as Commander Venus and one as Desaparecidos.

That's an impressive 17 albums for one so young, not to mention numerous split singles and one-off EPs along the way.

His self-titled latest album was recorded in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico between January and February of 2008 in a temporary studio created in a mountain villa called Valle Místico. From this, Oberst took the name for his backing band on this record - The Mystic Valley Band.

Here Oberst continues his interest in mysticism. While last year's 'Cassadaga' was influenced by an area in Florida famed for psychics and "energies"; the Aztec valley land of Tepoztlán is famed as a good place for spotting UFOs. You won't be surprised to learn that the area had some influence on George Lucas also, as the recent 'Indiana Jones' move attests to.

Oberst's interest however springs more from the 'vibe' the area creates, rather than having any direct musical or lyrical input.

For the most part 'Conor Oberst' is in keeping with Bright Eyes' beautifully sparse 2004 Americana masterpiece 'I'm Wide Awake (It's Morning)'. Here we find the Nebraska native at his wistful best, playing out country songs in which he occasionally dips into honkey-tonk and barn yard stomps.

As a lyric writer he's become more indirect in conveying his feelings and, as a direct result, has less of the emotionally-pained teenage voice many of his detractors criticised him for. His voice too has improved, less fractured than before and subtler in texture, without losing any of the sharpness of phrase.

Opener 'Cape Canaveral' fines him at the height of his powers. Like 2004's 'Lua', it takes beauty from a simple, melodic sweep over an acoustic guitar as he breathes out pure poetry. One of his finest songs to date, one would hope in the near future to hear Oberst make an entirely solo acoustic work.

That's not the case here, and the Mystic Valley Band prove adept at the barroom country Oberst so lusts after. On 'Sausalito' you can literally smell the liquor.

Elsewhere 'Get Well Cards' is laced in Sixties folk rock, and wouldn't sound out of place in Newport circa 1964.

'Lenders in the Temple' is again another fine moment and reminiscent of the relationship Oberst sang about on 'Landlocked Blues' from 'I'm Wide Awake (It's Morning)'.

The quality continues with 'Danny Callaghan', a lament for a departed friend. Western medicine, and more specifically healthcare in America, again come in for attack on the honky-tonk stomp of 'I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital)'. Though no overt criticism is present, Oberst has never been one to steer far from the political - much to his credit.

His fun, musically experimental side comes out on feedback chant 'NYC-Gone-Gone', while his less satisfying experimental side rears its head with 'Valle Mistico (Ruben's Song)' - a kind of didgeridoo, cow horn number. Enough said.

In all, 'Conor Oberst' is a fine solo album. Some of Oberst's detractors will claim his time should be spent honing ideas rather than releasing records, yet Oberst's best work always bares a fresh flavour to it in how it's played (which is much in evidence here). One would expect that to be lost in increased incubation.

There isn't a bad song on here and those who have long flown the Oberst flag won't be let down; those new to the cause - welcome to one of America's finest emerging songwriters.

Steve Cummins