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Jennifer O'Connor, The Color and the Light

reviewed by dave heaton

The melancholy folk-pop songs on Jennifer O'Connor's self-titled debut album showcased her as a talented singer also truly gifted at the art of writing a uniquely moving and powerful song. Each song possessed a distinct mood and a memorable melody but even more than that, each was driven by real feeling, and by a keen awareness of the emotions real people experience day-to-day.

O'Connor's second album The Color and the Light picks up much in that same vein, yet also takes a big step forward, towards a fuller, more diverse sound. Infectious hooks, often buoyed by more of a rock n' roll edge, give the album a 'fit for college radio' feeling, while a bluesy toughness and old-style country touches add a enjoyable kind of 'on the road in America' tone to the album.

Those road-trip musical invocations fit well with The Color and the Light's lyrical theme of moving on. Song after song finds a narrator realizing that things need to change, that it's time to leave the past behind and start again. "I'm gonna find myself a brand-new skin" goes the album's first line, on the wonderful "Beg or Borrow Days", and many of the album's songs echo that sentiment. The song after the first, "Driving Through", describes a hometown visit which brings nothing but bad memories. Turning on the radio, though, and hearing "that perfect song", makes her ask herself "is this the best you can do?" Hearing a great song connects to some deep place inside, and makes her want to change her life for the better.

That's a powerful theme lurking in the background throughout The Color and the Light: the real emotional power a song can have. On "Beg or Borrow Days" she's trying to write a perfect new song, write herself a new life. On Hole in the Road hearing the right song at the right time leads to a realization: "I knew right then what I had to end and what I had to start." "Saved" describes not a religious conversion but a musical one. And the final track "Hopeful" the album's optimistic point after a serious of tough break-ups and goodbyes sees a day right around the corner when "we'll sing a tune that will make the day feel all right."

The album's musical theme isn't just about music, per se, though this isn't a tribute to record-collecting or any such thing. The album's dominant theme is more about speaking the truth, about finding the courage and voice to say and do what's inside. O'Connor's honest, articulate songs are filled with moments of realization and insight, moments where the protagonist comes to grips with some deeper truth. These moments often come with one person listening to a great pop song, connecting with it and getting strength from it. Jennifer O'Connor's songs are remarkable and heartfelt enough to cause that some reaction, to mean that much to people.

{Released by Red Panda Records, distributed by Darla. Also visit www.jenniferoconnor.net.}


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