The Newfoundland roots-rock scene has seen some stellar breakout acts in the last few years: the Once, Sherman Downey, Matt Hornell, and now Andrew James O’Brien. His debut album, backed by his band the Searchers, is a soft-spoken man’s personal narrative, flavoured with catchy melodies and instrumental flairs.
O’Brien comes from a singer-songwriter background, but that doesn’t mean that Songs For Searchers is just a collection of introspective lyrics, half-whispered and half-sung over a finger-picked acoustic guitar. That’s there, of course—check out “Thank You,” or “Go Easy” with the incomparable Amelia Curran—but the musician integrates a wide range of sounds, from horns and gang vocals, to build a bigger sound.
What makes this a particularly strong debut is the way O’Brien has balanced production, performance, and a rigour that typically takes a few records to perfect. Little flourishes like the initial vocal delays on “On The Radio” are handled with sophistication, rather than obsessing over them and losing the intent of the song.
Songs For Searchers opens with the highly rockable “House On Fire,” a tune that sets a whimsically romantic mood that is turned on its head during the quiet intro of the next number, “City Song.” Sudden shifts in emotion run the course of the album, exemplifying the uncertainty and search for meaning that give this disc its character.
“All These Things” and “On The Radio” offer brief returns to cheery novelty, but it’s not a permanent thing—the aching “We Were A Boat” re-imagines everything again.
There’s a lot going on in any given song, but O’Brien is consistently capable of bringing it back to the lyrics. “Some say love ain’t built to last,” he sings over a single guitar on the closing track, but he isn’t prepared to give in that easily: “We’ll prove them wrong, we’ll prove them wrong.”
It’s a nice end to the album: a reaffirmation that those who have been searching for an authentic new voice in Newfoundland music have found something significant in Andrew James O’Brien, whose debut album will prove any naysayer wrong.
-Ryan Belbin, themuse.ca
buy the album here: http://obriensmusic.com/site/products-page/music/andrew-james-obrien-songs-for-searchers/