Packaged in sleeve featuring a great homage to Nick Lowe’s solo debut ‘Jesus of Cool’, this release by Edward O’Connell has a sound which is almost timeless. Its songs could have been recorded at any point after the mid-eighties and performed by anyone aged between 25 and 60.
If you’re a fan of Tom Petty, it’s likely you’ll find an instant affinity with this album’s opening number ‘Acres of Diamonds’, since it could have been pulled straight off his ‘Full Moon Fever’ record. Granted, O’Connell may be wearing an influence on his sleeve here, but the end result is expertly delivered. With a crisp sound, all ringing guitars and retro-pop hooks, it’s unlikely that if this fell into the hands of Petty the end result would have sounded any better. ‘I Heard It Go’ features a similar sound, but is slightly more upbeat; it’s catchy chorus and slide guitar part evokes parts of George Harrison’s ‘Cloud 9’ album (again, it’s that Jeff Lynne produced Wilbury sound which begs the comparisons).
A laidback vocal gives ‘Partially Awesome’ an introspective feel and a similar heart-tugging quality to the under-rated Pete Droge. Although a little buried under the many guitar parts, there’s a piano at the core of this song, helping to give it an extra dimension. ‘Happy Black’ has a similar downbeat musical quality, anchored by a rock solid rhythm section. It manages not to be a straight-up repeat of ‘Partially Awesome’ thanks to some great harmony vocals and a great, yet simple, electric piano part. It’s a melancholy number which deserves a place as one of the album’s standouts. ‘Pretty Wasted’ is a key moment for fans of 12-string guitar, as during this track Karl Straub plays with a meticulous Byrds-esque greatness. The song itself is okay too, but isn’t as good as those earlier tracks.
A solid harmony vocal leads ‘Your Ride’s Here’, for a classic (if again, slightly downbeat) pop arrangement, containing elements of Elvis Costello and Enuff Z’Nuff (during their more reflective moments, as heard on material like ‘Time To Let You Go’ from the ‘Strength’ LP). While the lead vocal drifts a little too far into Costello territory and the hook isn’t as big as some of the others featured on the album, this really highlights O’Connell’s gift for penning an uncomplicated pop melody. ‘I Want To Kiss You’ aims for a similar feel, but misses the mark, partly due to a lightweight chorus, but mostly due to the presence of a rather unpleasant alto sax solo…It’s one of the only weaker track here, though – the other being the piano lullaby ‘All My Dreams’, which, although well played, is a little too saccharine for my tastes.
‘With This Ring’ is an upbeat stomper, which combines the energy of early Elvis Costello and a slight hint of John Hiatt. It’s almost certainly the album’s punchiest number, partly due to Jonathan Babu providing the song with a decent backbone behind the drum kit, but mostly because there are five guitarists featured; listen closely – there’s a piano fill thrown in at the end too. It’s amazing to think that an arrangement could feature so much without losing any of its natural feel, or appearing overdone in some way. O’Connell taps into his inner Costello further on ‘We Can Bury You’, a country-tinged number featuring heavily twanged guitar and, again, some rather solid piano hiding in the back. Here, the vocal is over-stretched in a way which would have suited the mighty bespectacled one in the early 80s. While I’m not always a fan of country influenced material, this has more than enough in the way of endearing qualities.
Edward O’Connell may sound like a composite of various other artists, but that doesn’t stop ‘Our Little Secret’ being a great album. Although it gets a little samey in places, its songs are really well crafted – and for an independently released disc, the production values are spot on. If you’re a fan of jangly guitar pop, then you shouldn’t miss this.