Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars
By David Chiu
The mark of a good songwriter is the ability to identify with and address listeners’ feelings and concerns in direct plain-simple language while simultaneously staying true to his or her artistic vision. Jennifer O’Connor is one such artist.
It’s not a revelation to her fans or critics who have followed her music—O’Connor has been doing that for a while now over the course of her earlier albums. The fact that her third full length album, Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars, is her major indie label debut doesn’t compromise her music at all, but rather enhances it with a brighter and focused sheen. It also continues O’Connor’s sublime gift for melody that walks a fine line between indie rock and accessible pop like on “Century Estates.”
Part of O’Connor’s talent as a songwriter lies in her ability to create interesting vignettes from seemingly ordinary situations or scenes. That is true of two particular songs on this album that involves both travel and longing: a solitary driver yearning to get home and be with her lover in the jangle pop number “Exeter, Rhode Island”; and the sense of loneliness inside a New York City subway car while pining for a sibling on the poignant “Sister” (an electrified version of the original song from her 2002 self-titled album). She expresses those emotions with intelligence and honesty, especially in complicated matters of the heart in “Perfect Match” and “Bullshit Maze.”
Despite the wide emotional terrain covered on Over the Mountain… O’Connor concludes things on an optimistic note with the lovely ballad “Tonight We Ride” and the infectiously upbeat “I’ll Bring You Home,” in which she provide the hopeful lines, “I’ll pick you up when you feel down/I know the way to our home town.” O’Connor acts as that understanding, compassionate old friend/pal/everywoman who’s been there and done that, an approach that resonates. And adding to the sincerity and authenticity of her lyrics are her modest and unassuming wistful vocals, proving that you don’t need a soprano voice to tug those heart strings.
Over the Mountain…, which might finally put O’Connor on the national music map, merely reaffirms what her fans and the critics knew all along about her: that is she is a major singer/songwriter on the rise.