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Sean O' Brien: Future Harvest

Reviewed By: Malcolm Carter
Label: First Cold Press
Format: CD

It has been been some time that my opinion of an album has changed so much every time I’ve listened to it. Is the word ‘grower’ still used to describe an album that takes some time to really get into your blood? If so then ‘Future Harvest’ must rank as the grower of the year.

Sean O’Brien has been making music for some twenty-five years, originally fronting California based bands before moving to Los Angeles in 1991 then returning to his native Bay Area in 2001. I must, however, confess that this is the very first time any of O’Brien’s music has reached these ears. Denim TV, the Mariettas, Cottonmouth; all the bands that O’Brien has been involved with through the years have somehow passed me by. ‘Future Harvest’ would appear to be the second album O’Brien has released with his latest band the Dirty Hands.

It can only be said that, if any of the many albums O’Brien has been involved in are as varied musically and as far-reaching as these twelve original songs, then it is amazing that Sean O' Brien is not a better known name.

‘Shadow Sharks’ opens the album with a full, beefy sound. While it could easily have come from a Bryan Adams album, being a riffing slab of pop/rock with an infectious melody, O’Brien’s vocals immediately capture your attention, as does the performance on guitar from co-producer (along with O’Brien) Jeff Kane, who impresses more and more every time the album is heard.

‘Advice Coming In’ which follows takes a completely different turn, coupling jangly guitars with a warm Hammond organ sound, and shows that O’Brien has country leanings buried deep in his pop/rock roots. With thought-provoking lyrics, which not for the last time, prove that O’Brien is a lyricist of some worth, and some of Jeff Kane’s most inspired guitar work on the album, this is an early highlight of ‘Future Harvest’.

While the title track is again lyrically clever, the punky, rockabilly sound is a little disappointing coming straight off those two opening songs. While that duo of openers displayed more than a touch of originality the title song, especially while reminding the listener of Ohio Express’s most banal song in places, has been heard so many times before and offers nothing new.

The psychobilly tear-up that follows, ‘River Of Greed’, at least puts a different slant on that particular genre, with added vocals from Bill Davis, outstanding drumming from Matt Shelley conjuring up a sultry, swampy sound and, featuring once again walls of lightning guitar runs from Kane, it is evidence that O’Brien can draw inspiration from what has gone before and add his own, new exciting slant.

As if to really prove the point that he is no one trick pony the following song, ‘A Thorny Path’ features the Magik Magik Orchestra, a string quartet who compliment this little singer-songwriter acoustic gem of a song perfectly. Given what has gone immediately before makes this song’s beauty shine even more, it is confirmation that O’Brien really can tackle most musical styles and win. The atmosphere created by that song is continued into ‘Leaves’, a country-flavoured ballad that benefits from contributions vocally from O-Lan Jones and Chris Von Sneidern (from the Sneetches, who also appear on a clutch of other tracks) and with some wonderful pedal steel from Max Butler.

There are power-pop influences on the sixties-inspired ‘Your First Clue’; the blues make a showing on the heavier ‘When Is Your Birthday?’ and ‘The Dress Of Tara Jane’ again displays the country side of O’Brien. ‘Privatized’, it can’t be denied, recalls some of Nick Cave’s work around his ‘Murder Ballads’ period. The eerie atmosphere created by the female backing vocalists is particularly effective when coupled with Joshua Raoul Brody’s inviting keyboard sounds.

To close the album O’Brien offers up the most soulful song on ‘Future Harvest’. ‘Sister, I Have Fallen’ is yet another surprise, quite unlike anything that has gone before it. Beautiful, heavenly female background vocals make this saxophone-infused soul ballad the obvious highlight of an album that must rank as one of the few that cover so much unrelated ground musically so successfully.

‘Future Harvest’ needs a little listening time before it really sinks in, but stick with it and with each play another little gem reveals itself.

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