Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jennifer O'Connor - Here With Me

Jennifer O'Connor
Here With Me (Matador, 2008)
Grade: B+

Download: Jennifer O'Connor - "Here With Me"

Emotionally speaking, Jennifer O’Connor had nowhere to go but up after her last effort, Over The Mountain, Across The Valley and Back To The Stars. That 2006 release was inspired by events in O’Connor’s personal life that would make even the most strident believer in Murphy’s Law chagrined. Based on the mournful opening snare hits of "The Church and The River", it would seem like her latest album is another meditation on loss. Instead, "River" is a solemn, but sweet, love song. Based on the cover art, depicting O’Connor and her girlfriend in an embrace, as well as the lyrical contents of "River", it should be no surprise that the rest of Here With Me is an intimate affair, perfect for low-key cuddle sessions. In fact, the record might be a little too low-key. Folk-indebted numbers like “End of the Hall” and “Highway Miles” are generic singer-songwriter. Later on, the country-tinged “Days Become Months” drags the momentum built by more mid-tempo songs like the sweetly staccato title track and “Daylight Out”, which unexpectedly invokes, to great effect, the easy-going classic-rock defiance of Tom Petty.

That said, these complaints become more and more moot over subsequent listens. Here With Me works well as an amalgam of laid-back singer-songwriter influences. There’s the sardonic indie-rock confessions of Liz Phair on “Xmas Party”, Cat Power’s smoky, sensual seduction on haunting “Valley Road ‘86”, and even a little bit of Automatic For The People-era R.E.M on folk-rocker “Credit in The Cost”. The best song, however, is the slowly-building “Landmines”, which begins humbly with O'Connor by herself, and then soars to a full-band crescendo, with canyon-wide slide guitar playing, and a rhythm section swooping in like its a huge gust of Mountain air. The effect is thrilling, and demonstrates effectively that O'Connor can drift outside her comfort zone. Ultimately, Here With Me shows that O'Connor does well with what she knows inside and out, and tantalizes the listener with the possibilities of what she'll discover next.

Jennifer O'Connor MySpace Page

(Jonathan Graef)

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