Edward O’Connell’s third album ‘Feel Some Love’ comes eight years after the excellent ‘Vanishing Act’, but for fans, no matter how much time has passed, it’s the kind of record that’ll hit the spot pretty much instantly. Within a few seconds of the opening track ‘Golden Light’ emerging from the speakers, it almost feels as if O’Connell has never been away. That number’s heavy use of chiming guitars, leading a melody that occasionally sounds as if it could slip into an old Tom Petty tune at the drop of a hat, is typical of the singer-songwriter in that has a sort of timeless quality, especially in the way he’s able to apply a rootsy and friendly vocal to a very bright guitar sound. Some understated harmonies, a hard struck piano, a swirling organ and a Jim Keltner-esque drum part are all on hand to layer a great tune, but everything escalates via a lead guitar break that tips the hat to Roger McGuinn styled melodies. As the final notes fade, there’s a feeling that – at just two minutes and forty two seconds into this album – you’re in more than safe hands.
In terms of highlights, there are many to be discovered on this long overdue return. For those already familiar with O’Connell’s work, the Americana tinged ‘All My Sins’ will be an instant favourite with a world of Pete Droge inspired melodies dancing above heavily strummed semi-acoustic sounds, before a slightly bluesy lead guitar drops in with a really melody conscious solo. As before, the vocal tones are very natural; Ed’s slightly nasal sound is a perfect fit for the music, and in terms of harmonies, although everything is understated enough to allow O’Connell’s own voice to be the most important aural factor, there’s a band feel to the piece that allows for a genuine warmth throughout. Taking a sidestep into something a little rootsier, ‘You Wish’ features a world guitars that mix a power pop crunch with a slight country twang. Although the lead vocal is unmistakable, hard edged, chiming guitars are contrasted by a busy rhythm that evokes a banjo (without actually going there) sets this apart from a lot of the record. The melody slowly grows to include soaring guitar lines and a big drum beat, but at all times, it’s the vocal that supplies the main hook, and O’Connell’s natural style fall somewhere between Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, which will lend a familiar tone that should appeal to his fans and first time listeners alike.
‘Buddy Crocker’ offers a great narrative about cream frosting, set atop an arrangement where riffs and rhythms call back to The Traveling Wilburys – even going as far as including a slide guitar solo worthy of George Harrison. It’s bread and butter stuff for O’Connell, and certainly will feel over-familiar to his cult fanbase. Even so, it shines brightly when mixing elements of pop, rock and rootsy sounds in a such a flawless way, and it’s one of those tracks where the performer’s easy charm wins through even if the foundations are somewhat predictable.‘Something Is Right’, a slower, country-ish ballad, carries the dour tones of early Pete Droge, but also the richness of Costello’s often overlooked ‘King of America’. In terms of warm Americana bleeding into power pop territory, you’ll have heard similar fare from Ed before (‘I Want To Kiss You’, ‘What Have You Done’), but seldom in a way that sounds this confident. His voice is very strong, and his assembled band – anchored by a really smooth retro organ sound – are really comfortable exploring such a stately and timeless pop/rock scenario.
The title cut applies another country-ish twang to a mid tempo, rootsy pop rocker, allowing for some fine harmonies throughout. Ed’s slightly husky tones sound very stately when set against a cleaner choir of voices, but as with so many of his best songs, it’s that strong and simple vocal melody that carries everything. Praise must also be given to the band for delivering such a great arrangement, more than hinting at a love for a few Costello deep cuts from the late 80s. ‘Who’s Watching Your Baby’, meanwhile, shifts the mood to allow for a more groove laden riff to take centre stage. Although Ed’s voice remains within the retro pop/rootsy pop mould, a deftly played organ and slightly busier bassline apply a slight Stax southern soul influence to the core melody. Eventually arriving at a slightly bluesy lead guitar break, this celebrates retro sounds in a very different way to Ed’s usual stock, but is just as great. In another musical change, ‘Sad & Lonely’ rocks a little harder, with overdriven power pop guitars working hard against a hard stabbed rock ‘n’ roll piano. Here, you’ll find a couple of early 80s breakdowns worthy of the skinny tie brigade, and its a real pleasure to hear Ed really cutting loose on something that occasionally sounds like a throwback to something from Iain Matthews’s ‘Spot of Interference’ album. The music’s certainly much more urgent, but that never impedes another strong vocal melody; by tailing out with a whole world of aah’s, Ed surely knows he’s given a whole world of retro pop aficionados an unexpected earworm. Falling between his usual Pete Droge/Tom Petty sound and injecting some extra harmonies, ‘Florida Man’ works some brilliant country rock and power pop influences, set against a tongue in cheek lyric about the press reporting on “outlandish success”. Musically speaking, it doesn’t break the mould in terms of arrangement, but is exceptionally played, dishing up yet more chiming guitars against a rigid yet strong rhythm. Also with the drums pushing a little harder into a huge sing-along hook, it becomes a genuine stand-out on an album with no obvious weak links.
Despite not sounding too different from a few other tracks here, there’s plenty about the optimism and bright harmonies running through the centre of ‘I’ve Got A Million of ’Em’ to make it another standout cut. The way chiming guitars collide with the harder drum beats, allowing a floating organ to pick up the melody, is of a very late 60s persuasion – but again sounds like a retro pop as heard through a Petty prism – and it’s great to hear a piano line worthy of Steve Naive breaking through just before the fade. ‘Until Next Time’ melds Ed’s signature chime to a tune that seems a little more forlorn, but he utilises harmonies in such a way that any sadness actually feels uplifting. …And indeed, by the time this song has been through the stereo a few times, it proves to be very much the kind of track that captures the very essence of Ed’s sound. With elements of Kevin Salem and ‘Necktie Second’ era Droge peppered with extra piano, used brilliantly to give a real heart to its downbeat melody, this number has a genuine richness that’s just lovely.
Coming at a time when the vinyl boom has steered everything back to a manageable forty minutes, this album could’ve felt a little long at fifteen songs, but there’s so much about Ed’s timeless songwriting and arrangements – always natural and always drawing heavily from the pop/rock legends of the 70s and 80s – that ensures that nothing ever drags. It would actually be very hard to trim this down, given that most of the songs have an old-school pop sparkle often adhering to an AM radio three minute rule, and even it’s lower key numbers feature some lovely arrangements.
There was always the likelihood that a follow up to ‘Vanishing Act’ would be good, but this album often exceeds expectations. Maybe it’s that Ed spent so long honing everything to perfection; maybe it’s that the performances sound especially optimistic after a couple of tricky years of pandemic living and that a sense of freedom seems to lift everything. Whatever it is, ‘Feel Some Love’ is even stronger than ‘My Little Secret’, and cements O’Connell’s place as one of adult pop’s finest songsmiths. Despite playing very safely in terms of tone, between some superb hooks and friendly arrangements, this scores a place among 2022’s best discs.