The Upshot: Songs that brush up against you softly, swirl up around you like a sweet smelling breeze and leave you wistful for things you can’t quite put into words.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
The songs on this self-titled album drift by like puffs of rainbow colored fog, soft, edgeless, hard to pin down and rather lovely. Just brushes on snare and plunks of acoustic bass set gorgeous “Sand” into motion, Tara Jane O’Neil’s voice drifting airily over slow moving melodies, a trumpet blows, just at the beginning, languidly and as if from a far off place. O’Neil has played in so many bands and in so many guises that it’s odd that this album, coming about a quarter century into her career as an artist, carries her name. Yet it does feel like a personal statement, lush and welcoming, yet fundamentally pared down. Her voice never lifts above a murmur, her songs waft by at the same medium pace, and yet they are wholly enveloping.
O’Neil recorded this self-titled album in two sessions – one in Chicago with Mark Greenberg at Jeff Tweedy’s Loft Studio, the other at home in California. James Elkington (who plays with Tweedy and Richard Thompson’s band, in duets with Nathan Salsburg and about 100 other projects) sits in on a couple of the Chicago tracks, alongside free jazz bassist Nick Macri (who once played with Elkington in Zincs) and Gerald Dowd, a Chicago drummer best known for his work with Robbie Fulks. In California, the cast of characters included bassist Devin Hoff, Wilder Zoby (who collaborates with Run the Jewels), string arranger Jim James and Walt McClements of the one-man Lonesome Leash. A four-person choir of soft pretty voices — Chris Cohen, Joan Shelley, Carolyn Pennypacker-Riggs and Gerald Dowd — fills out the sound in musing, dreamy ways.
And yet, despite an able and diverse group of collaborators who differ from track to track, there’s a strong continuity of mood of tone in this album; it is very much O’Neil’s voice and vision that drives the whole. For this reason, the album makes most sense when you play it end to end. It’s also hard to pick a favorite track, because they all blend together in a seamless, extremely pleasant whole that winds by while you’re staring out the window. Still, if pressed, I’d nominate “Cali” with its pure fluting vocal melody that reminds me a little of Linda Perhacs, or the late album smolder of “Purple,” with its plaintive blues guitar and shuffling late night beat. These are songs that brush up against you softly, swirl up around you like a sweet smelling breeze and leave you wistful for things you can’t quite put into words.
Download: “Cali” “Purple” “Sand”