Chris O'Brien sings with the ease of Gordon Lightfoot and the slight warble of Tracy Chapman. He writes with eyes wistfully closed and heart wide open. Of course, anyone lucky enough to have found his 2004 self-titled six-song EP already knows this and knows just how good he can be and I'm sure are not surprised that on Lighthouse, he is. The aforementioned EP consisted of five songs and six tracks, O'Brien evidently feeling that both a live and studio version of Hey Love were worthy. The live Hey Love and Rosa are indeed good, but the live version of Melissa, included on "Lighthouse" in studio form, is magic.
But that was then and this is now and, whoa, O'Brien has done it again. Four songs on the EP are redone here, every one as good or better than that on the EP. Smooth production (but not too smooth) emphasizes O'Brien's downright pleasant voice and the importance of lyrics. Yes, he composes for words and music, and has the talent for both.
Of course, the inclusion of Antje Duvekot on the occasional background vocal helps, her unique harmony too far back but strangely just right. Since the release of her excellent Big Dreams Boulevard, the mere listing of her name makes me stop and listen (or look). And the band? They virtually channel O'Brien as they play, they are so in-sync.
Especially striking are the aforementioned Melissa, taken to a slightly different place in the studio thanks to background vocals and the simple but apt guitar of Austin Nevins; Blue Skies, the uptempo rhythm of the lyrics off-setting the light percussive shuffle and the sounds produced by guitarist Nevins and the organ of Sam Kassirer; Lighthouse, which gives Duvekot little enough in the way of vocal support, but, oh, that little; and Rosa, a romance in music graced with my favorite lines from last year: "She is lightning/I am thunder a moment behind", which doesn't look anywhere near as good on paper as it sounds on CD.
Chris O'Brien is amongst the group of so-called "folkies" working out of the Boston area these days and it is not surprising that he is accepted within that realm. This, his first real attempt at something whole, places him among the best in the area. It shouldn't be long, though, before the rest of the country finds out. It might behoove you to keep an eye open for that 2004 disc as well. It is a bit raw, but it's worth it for the live version of Melissa. Even the light clinking of glasses stops when the music starts. Oh, to have been in the club that night.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2008, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles