Thursday, July 25, 2013

Forrest O' Connor "Wisewater" EP review

Let me start this off by saying, this is not at all what I was expecting this EP to sound like. I had heard much about Forrest’s skill as a "mandolin family" instrument player, seen him rip through bluegrass tunes, and watched him pick it out solo with some rather impressive space filling skills while playing all by his lonesome (for those of you who don’t know, mandolin is a fairly high pitched instrument, playing and singing solo is a tough feat to make sound good…Forrest has NO issues making it sound not just good, but ridiculously good). What I got here was not 20 minutes of “self satisfying mandolin runs just because I can”, but well thought out and expertly arranged pieces that have a commercial appeal and still feel like an independent musician sunk their heart and soul into them.

Built on a pillar of top tier instrumentation and intensely rich harmonies, "Wisewater" presents 5 tracks, all with a common thread, but differing in their tonal and arrangement qualities. O' Connor's lighthearted attitude and dry humor shines through all of the noise in each and every track...seriously, the guy is a hoot, go check out his videos on youtube. Pretty funny stuff.

The record kicks off with “Leaves Keep Falling”…and the mandola tone is unreal on this track. Just a beautiful woody picking pattern laid out across the track. Luscious vocal harmonies all courtesy of O’ Connor, and some really interesting synths mixed in with it all make it a very unique and enjoyable listen. IF you listen close, he has relatable lyrics and its pretty easy to tell he is Boston guy, riding the T in this particular cut.

I ride the train, see that everyone’s looking down

At their hands, up a name, not a soul

“Drift” takes a somewhat similar, but fuller, turn. Mixing synth and strings resulting in a pleasant and upbeat product. It’s the third track where the musician’s personality really shines through. A playful and humorous interlude of the musician talking to “his counterpart” and a jokey exchange about keys and arrangement (“one of the more underutilized keys is G” got me laughing for a good while). It launches into an original arrangement (I believe?) called ‘Summer Road’. A fun and upbeat arrangement that brings the absolute and honest fact to a head that this guy is an incredibly talented player. My only complaint is that I wish this tune went on for another 3-4 minutes. Unparalleled playing here.

“Live on” is the fourth track and introduces fellow musician David Gallagher to the mix on guitar. It has a bit more of a muted warm tone to it…I am thinking melancholy and somewhat dark autumn day. That is just kind of where it brings me personally, a solid tune indeed. The general fact that it makes me feel that way really says something about Forrest’s ability to condone feelings through his orchestration choices in the music.

The EP ends with the moving “Crop Circles”. An almost 80s video game like them kicks in on the keys. A full band arrangement with a serious groove. With banjo, mandolin, organ, guitars, and those synths is almost like “farm electronic dance music”, taking breaks to highlight the fact that some traditional strings are hiding behind the waves of synthesizer. Again, Forrest O’Connor and his damn multiple harmony parts just blow me away. All the way down low and sky high, he mixes and mingles his vocal across multiple tracks forming a harmonious and full sound. A successful tune indeed.

 Forrest O’ Connor masterfully blends traditional instrumentation with modern textures to create a buoyant and delightful mix of sounds on this project. His voice has a seemingly unending space and flexibility to it, that most singers who listen to this project will envy. I don’t have much else to say about Mr. O’ Connor except, he is good…real, real good. Pick this EP up, you won’t be disappointed.

Forrest O’ Connor is online at:

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