[9 August 2006]
The idea of a bankrupt musician isn’t new, whether you’re a band that has just been signed to some three-album, 14-year recording contract to Shecky’s House Of Nocturnal Ill Repute Music, or an established platinum-selling star. It happens. But to name an album like this takes some ba…, er, ovaries on the part of Marykate O’Neil. The musician has some great people helping her out, including Jill “I Kissed a Girl” Sobule lending a hand on some writing, and some of the musical performances as well. O’Neil is no slouch in her own right, but having this assistance should assure listeners that her self-titled debut was not a flash in the pan, or some other cooking instrument.
O’Neil falls into a long line of coffeehouse folk singer-songwriters that hope to one day crack the inner circle of Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan. And she makes a strong effort breaking into that circle with a light, but poppy “I’m Ready For My Luck to Turn Around”. It sounds a bit like she’s been inspired by the Las’ “There She Goes”. It’s a pretty and pleasing kind of ditty that she leads with, not too sweet or sappy but hitting all the right notes in the process. And it serves as the perfect primer for the Coldplay-lite mini-anthem that’s called “Stay”, which seems to contain a good deal of piano and a great drum beat. The song doesn’t quite build up to the heights Chris Martin and company are routinely guilty of, but it certainly packs its own punch, especially with a lovely vocal offering in the chorus. The only difference on this track is the conclusion, with a quirky fiddle-like instrument going a bit haywire.
O’Neil certainly has the chops and ear to know what works, especially on the mid-tempo lullaby-meets-roots folk of “Susan Fingerle” that builds into a nice folk pop tune that has some Beatles-ish qualities to it. If the Fab Four comparison isn’t obvious, she sings about listening to some Beatles albums in one of the lyrics. It’s interesting to note how she fleshes out the song: not in favor of keeping it short and sweet, but rather longer and sweeter. And if you think that was sweet and sugary pop, then get your fix with the gorgeous and buzz-tinged “Things are Too Good (They’re Bound to Go Bad)”, which should be a Sheryl Crow hit. The track is well worth 12 or 13 immediate, and repeated, listens. But enough about that song, O’Neil shows another side that isn’t as poppy with the Roseanne Cash-like “Past All The Stars”, whose payoff is in a lush, orchestral chorus. What doesn’t payoff is the winding, melancholy “Secret War”, a song which never quite lives up to expectations despite the best of intentions.
Perhaps the sleeper pick on this rather consistent and solid record is the hushed singer-songwriter folk rock of “I Sleep with My Clothes On”. It has some blips, bleeps and static in the distance as O’Neil gives a fantastic performance. And “A.D.D.” feeds from that softer approach with a bit more punch to it, although it comes off like an ambient Coldplay-ish number that is also quite dreamy. A couple more songs after that don’t quite shine, but certainly don’t embarrass O’Neil or anyone associated with the record. “Remember the Year We Were Normal” has a fine slow swing to it that saunters along without a care in the world. At the same time, O’Neil shows her wares again with the adult contemporary sounds of the poppy and polished “Since You’ve Been Away”, comparable to Sixpence None The Richer.