On Jennifer O’Connor’s third full-length album, she strips away the extraneous sounds that layered her previous self-titled debut in 2002 and her second disc The Color And The Light in 2005. The songs on Over The Mountain, Across The Valley, And Back To The Stars have a sparseness that gives them a vulnerability and a pathos for human frailty. The past year has given Jennifer unexpected strife, she reports on her website, “It’s been so tumultuous, I think that inevitably crept into my songs.” However, on this album, O’Connor is far from alone. Joining her is her longtime drummer Jon Langmead, Yo La Tengo bass player James McNew, keyboardist and backup vocalist Kendall Meade, guitarist Al Weatherhead, and Spoon’s Britt Daniel on backup vocals.
The opening numbers “Century Estates” and “Dirty City Blues” are bare essentials of folk tones with a voicing likened to Emmylou Harris and Chan Marshall (Cat Power). The slow speed mulls over each beat and note, taking it easy and savoring each step made forward. The exertion picks up the pace on “Exeter, Rhode Island” and “Sister,” carrying heavier tones and more wandering chords. “Today” is a basic acoustic guitar and vocals tune that immediately draws you into its magnetic field. The gentle musing is intense and deeply affects the emotions as she sings, “Today, I stop guessing and give you my heart.”
Jennifer tells in a press release that “Today” is “a total love song about being brave enough to say you want to be with someone even though you know it won’t work out.” The song “Bullshit Maze” is the aftereffect of “Today” when self-destructive patterns set in because the risks needed to make a romance last are not being made. The lyrical content of the songs are about adjusting oneself to life’s necessary changes. “Complicate Rhyme” embroiders sensual string arrangements and guitars with a Latin flavoring in a mandrel that lifts the spirit. There is an excitement in the air like hope has been renewed.
“Tonight We Ride” has a firm steady drumbeat that digs pegs into the melody like walking while using a scepter and making each step with a crutch along the tender guitar lines and soft bass motions. The final track “I’ll Bring You Home” is a hearty country/folk number with an overture of bare vocals and acoustic guitar musings that open up to tin-pan drum settings, vocal harmonies and bass pulses with undertones of piano droplets. The song rings like a jam session of players who come in with their own designs.
The songs on Over the Mountain are shaped with country/folk stylings and have a likeness to New York based Royal Pine Music, Chicago’s Wax On Radio, and Austin songsmiths Spoon. The music is city-fied country, primarily because it’s country music played by city folk. It’s homemade with a folksy feel that lifts the listener up among life’s drearier moments.
Spoon – Gimme Fiction
Emmylou Harris – Stumble Into Grace
Wax On Radio – Exposition