Rock and Reprise.net
There is both an innocence and a vulnerability in which is somewhat disarming. After listening to Partner, you might envision the girl next door or your best friend or the girlfriend of your best friend who does not treat her the way he should. She mirrors the insecurities of life we all experience during our most unguarded moments, those times when we see ourselves as others must see us and not as we really are. We lift our chins at those moments and tough it out, but low points are low pints and they hurt all the same. Sure, but Lisa O'Neill is neither angst-ridden nor suicidal, but so vulnerable that at times she makes you want to protect her and makes you hope that when the time comes, she will return the favor. It is in her music. It is in her voice.
Trouble opened Lisa O'Neill to me, the slow pace and Wes Montgomery guitar sound reaching deep down and refusing to let go. Something in that... slow... lyrical... delivery with the soft mid-tempo beat and alluring melody that caught the ear and tugged on the heart--- “Am I..... Causing..... Tru-buullll...” A magnificent moment. She does it again in Amiss, breathy voice over simple plucked acoustic guitar, add piano chords, add guitar chords, add strings, and as it builds, you float away as she sings “there's this miss..... communication” sailing over clouds and into the reverb. It is so soft and so quiet and so true.
The album is not all quiet and soft and slow-paced, but even the more upbeat tracks have a soft O'Neill edge: the fifties-tinged On Your Side with its shuffle beat and masterful guitar, heavy on the reverb and tremolo bar (Jesse Waldman deserves an award or two not only for his immaculately tasty guitar work on this and other tracks, but for a superb production job); the sparse rocker Give It Up, voices and guitar forging teamwork in sound.
Though the music is not really folk (it is not really anything but O'Neill, to my ears), it does touch the folk fringe with Letter and Partner, the acoustic chording leaning in that direction with the odd minor chords thrown in just enough to give it that a bit of a jazz sheen.
I love O'Neill's voice (it is form-fit to her songs), but to those who have to have the magnificent pitch and perfect pipes, all I can say is, you miss a lot. When musicians like Lisa O'Neill sing, it is as much about the phrasing as hitting every note and she does the job. Breathy, melancholy, upbeat, happy--- her phrasing magnifies, her heart amplifies.
It took two whole listens for Partner to jump into my 2009 Top Ten List (which has now grown to over 20--- it is a banner year), and the more I listen, the more I like it. I've been listening to it a lot. That won't change for some time to come.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.