AUK’s Twang Factor winner returns with fleshed-out sound.
Anton O’Donnell won the inaugural AUK Twang Factor competition which gave him the opportunity to record this set which is worth listening to as an example of what was then before we consider what is now.
If that was a bare-bones quite raw acoustic set with nothing more than guitar and harmonica then O’Donnell’s latest offering, the 4 track EP, ‘Where Art Thou April’, is quite different and features a collection of musicians over several continents who bring the project together. O’Donnell cites his influences as blues, country, folk, and rock and roll – which is a pretty broad canvas by anyone’s standards – and touches all AUK bases. Vocally he is described as,
‘Blessed with a smoky, whiskey-soaked voice redolent of the great soul singers of Stax and Muscle Shoals’.
To be honest, it’s not clear to whom that refers and there is never a shortage of gritty voiced vocalists, then and now. The album features Glaswegian musicians from a number of bands including Awkward Family Portraits, Blue Milk, Al and the Bad Decisions, and Emerald State. There are guest appearances from ex Starship member Phil Bennett and session musician/producer Frank Swart.
The title track, ‘Where Art Thou April?’, is a pleasant enough rocker, and O’Donnell’s voice suits that particular style well – it’s a big contrast from those acoustic numbers above and it’s a pity that it’s not easy to pick up the lyrics. Given that Americana is surely about lyrics and words it’s surprising how many are shy of sharing them – more’s the pity! ‘We’ll Go Stopping Time’, is a jaunty foot tapper and, ‘You Do Me Right’, has a slinky relaxed feel – both are pleasant but couldn’t be said to be particularly memorable.
These initial tracks give hardly any indication of the excellent sophistication of the fourth offering, ‘Je ne sais Quoi’, which starts with a lovely acoustic guitar, piano, and brushes intro and lopes along with acoustic bass underpinning it all. It’s a joyful bouncy tune and O’Donnell doesn’t try so hard to be the great soul singer – his vocals are better enunciated and the words more intelligible. ‘Hustled to the phone, wrangled to the ground’ – I’m not sure what it means but it sounds great; there’s even some horns in there and a passable French accent. It’s a delight, not easy to describe, but has a great hook and is so different from what has gone before. Even that wordless little vocal improvisation at the end feels like, ‘le mot juste’.
A brief acquaintance with O’Donnell’s music might suggest an artist in search of a signature musical identity – and this from a reviewer who often decries the fact that many an album seems to entail a dozen or so tracks that are scarcely distinguishable. Whilst O’Donnell does have a distinctive voice, those first tracks could be by any one of a number of artists. ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’ on the other hand has a wit and imagination that puts it head and shoulders above any of the other three. Word has it that there is a full-length offering due early next year and it will be interesting to see what it brings. Being honest there is a surfeit of mid-tempo guitar-driven rockers on offer – but something like ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’ is much less common.
Any artist would aspire to, ‘a quality that cannot be described or named easily’, so follow the muse, Mr. O’Donnell.