I hate to get caught up on trivial, external factors about what bothers me about certain albums, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. If a band’s name is just plain horrible, like Wes Borland’s Bigdumbface for instance, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll never pick the record up. And an album cover is painfully, cringe-inducingly ugly, then chances are I’ll be somewhat repelled by it as well. And as much as I hate to start off a review this way, it has to be said — Jennifer O’Connor’s The Color and the Light has one of the ugliest album covers I’ve seen in quite some time.
Okay, there, I said it. Now it’s out of the way and I can focus on the actual album, which, I must admit, is a very enjoyable one. It’s a little bit pop, occasionally rocking, sometimes twangy and a little bit tender. It has all the qualities one would desire in a singer-songwriter, albeit with a little more oomph. And most importantly, the songs are good.
O’Connor is at her best when she rocks out a bit. The leadoff alt-country track “Beg or Borrow Days” is an immediate highlight, for its galloping twang-rock, sounding something like Jesse Sykes or Neko Case with her Boyfriends. “Driving Through” is somewhat more straightforward, recalling Rilo Kiley’s hearty indie pop. And “Hole in the Road” is something of a cross between the two, mixing peppy pop melodies with a bit of a folky bent. Imagine a female fronted Bright Eyes and you’re almost there.
When O’Connor mellows a bit, she can be equally compelling, though not as exciting. The title track, for instance, layers on reverb and dreamy soundscapes, though gets a little sleepy, as does “Saved.” But on O’Connor’s slower tracks, she puts forth more expression in her voice, achieving a range an octave or so beyond her faster tracks. It’s a shame she sounds so restrained in songs that should be more free and powerful. Nonetheless, when she hits that right combination of strong voice with strong melodies, she can really knock one out of the park.
The Color and the Light is a promising debut for an artist who clearly has some talent stored up. It may not all flourish and breathe all at once, but when she finally does let it out, I can see an Album of the Week slot saved for her in the future. I just hope she finds a better graphic designer to do the cover next time around.
Neko Case and Her Boyfriends – Furnace Room Lullaby
Inara George – All Rise
Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.