David Dondero invented Conor Oberst. Well, that may be a slight overstatement, but it's no big secret that the poignant songwriting and uniquely emotive vocal style of the former were heavily influential on the latter. His work, however, stands up as far more than the jumping-off point for Bright Eyes. Dondero is uncannily adept at the ever-disappearing art of American minstrelsy, as if he were plucked from the Depression-era Dust Bowl, yet his music somehow manages to rise above period or stylistic mimicry. He is, first and foremost, a storyteller. Don't expect a lyrical vacuum that masquerades as gravity; these songs breathe real air. Frequently tied to the many places he's visited in his musical wanderings, his compositions paint a picture not only of who he is and where he's been, but of the American people and the American experience — all done with a confidence and maturity that allows his songs to be weighty without being leaden.