Spark

Barry O'Brien

Independent release, 2004

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REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/20/2005

I never fail to be astonished when I run across the odd quote-unquote rock and roll fan who proudly declares their disdain for the Beatles. Granted, your mileage may vary; you don't have to love the Beatles (or the Stones or Zeppelin or…) to be a rock and roll fan. But you DO have to respect them, and pay attention to them, and learn from them. Otherwise you're missing a mammoth chunk of musical history that continues to this day to influence the sounds you hear on your radio.

Barry O'Brien of Dublin, Ireland did not miss the Beatles boat. On the contrary, he climbed on board, volunteered as first mate and appears to be pretty much running the rig on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Spark, his splendiferously well-crafted four-song EP. It's all here; jangly melodies, tight arrangements, superb harmonies, creative production flourishes, sharp musical turns and hook after memorable hook.

Opener "Cut Me Out" kicks things off at a languid pace as O'Brien lays some sweet, Harrison-like picking over a dreamy ascending melody. The bridge is nice, too, a heavier interlude with brooding electronic accents hiding down in the mix.

Sophomore cut "The Strangest Game" might be the most modern-sounding thing here, jumping a couple of decades forward to borrow from Elvis Costello's early '80s playbook (especially that biting organ tone). It's a fun track sprinkled with breakdowns that keep the tempo surging and falling back.

Third in line, "Sisters In The Sky" is a pleasant change of pace, a pastoral ballad with smooth acoustic lead and rhythm guitar, string accents for texture and a bit of a CSN feel in the breathy, layered vocals.

The closing "Under The Waves," like "Cut Me Out" before it, feels like it could be a lost cut from that other virtual Beatles tribute band Fastball, all bouncy rhythms, layered harmonies and assertive hooks. (No worries, Barry -- I am one of the nineteen people left in North America who still love Fastball.) Just to up the ante, O'Brien gives "Under" a Sgt. Pepper's outro, a fadeout that fades back in to reprise the melody with the addition of horns.

O'Brien, who covers songwriting, lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, is abetted by musical mates Keith Farrell (bass, backing vocals and production), Aidan O'Grady (drums), and a considerable cast of guest players. Special kudos have to go to Farrell for his work shaping the sound of one of the best-produced indie discs I've ever had the pleasure of popping in my system. The perfectly balanced mix is clear as day while retaining an organic feel throughout.

In sum, my guess is if you gave this a spin for Sir Paul, he'd nod and grin and bob his head to the beat. It doesn't get much better than that.

Rating: B+

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