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Sometimes a talent comes along that stops you in your tracks. Born in 1973, the Brooklyn, NY based female indie-pop singer/songwriter Jennifer OConnor is one such voice.
She has earned comparisons to Liz Phair and Barbara Manning as she sensitively explores a stark emotional terrain in her folksy songs. Yet she has a simple, clean but at the same time complex style reminiscent of her idols Aimee Mann and Eliott Smith.
While living in Atlanta, GA during 90s, Jennifer started her musical career . She had a band called Violet in Atlanta after college which released several singles before disbanding. Jennifer then moved to New York City where she recorded her first solo effort the Truth Love Work EP. Meanwhile she worked at the Knitting Factory & tended bar sometimes just to make ends meet.
Next she released her first solo full-length album, Jennifer O'Connor. Jennifer OConnors self-titled debut album was marked by sharp songwriting that vividly conveyed feelings and moments. This solo project dazzled the local press and garnered rave reviews for its stunning attention to narrative and emotional detail.
The strength of that record led to gigs in London, France and across the USA. In 2004 she teamed with Producer Al Weatherhead (producer for Mary Timony and others) to record The Color and the Light in Richmond, VA. The New York-based Red Panda label released it in late 2004.
The Color and the Light, was a huge musical step forward, as that same songwriting style (as in Jennifer O'Connor) was wedded to compact, catchy, energetic song structures. All her life Jennifer has road-tripped back and forth from Connecticut & Florida to Atlanta & Brooklyn.
This constant traveling and touring as well as the success of The Color and the Light led to her signing to Matador Records in the late fall of 2005; this time with added texture courtesy of the Richmond, Virginia-based band, Maki. The strength of O'Connor's songwriting and guitar work, coupled with a top-notch backing band only elevated her place in the New York music scene.
The following year O'Connor issued Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars with Matador. A number of songs from the record were written in dedication to and as assistance to her sister Heather who battled with brain cancer, but lost her struggle a year ago. There's a wonderful illustration in the CD's booklet, done by Brittney Crump, which depicts a floating balloon and a prickly cactus.
The balloon tells the cactus, I love you and the cactus responds, I know, both owning solemn faces of understanding that they're hopeless. The stories winding their way through these songs involve the dissolution of relationships and family tragedy, along with the general struggle of dealing with the unexpected twists and turns of life. Its an album filled with sadness, but also constant hope.
The album ends on an undeniably up note, with a perfect pop song that has an inspiring lift to it. I pick you up when you fall down, she sings. I think youre lost / But come on Ill bring you home. The song has bounciness, a rhythm that swings, and a sing-along melody. This sort of directness is rare in pop/rock music today.
OConnor has been praised by critics and fans both. According to SPIN Magazine, (O'Connor's} unflinching lyrics and stunningly strong voice leap from distressing folk ballads to buzzing rock with ease...Here With Me peers into romance with the bittersweet dexterity of Elliott Smith and Aimee Mann.
This year she came with her fourth album, Here With Me also with Matador, which was recorded in 12 days alongside guest players from the Hold Steady and Ben Folds Five. But the time constraint seems to have helped the album cohere around an idea of relaxed eclecticism. Each sound fits nicely with her voice, which is always clear and at the top of the mix.
Michael Strandbergs delicate electric guitar wanderings play against OConnors melodies, especially on the second track, Always in Your Mind. In that song, the little blips of shimmering guitar add a hooky contrast to her breathy phrases. And in Landmine there are some noisy but muted pyrotechnics that support OConnors final vocal stylings.
The music remains at the service of the words, leaving it affecting but unchallenging. Basic tracks - including vocals - were recorded live. Jennifer recorded it earlier this year with John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth) at Brooklyn's Headgear Studios. It is backed by a crack backing trio of Jon Langmead, Michael Broadlieb and Michael Strandberg (and joined, briefly, by Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay). The dulcet-toned singer Amy Bezunartea also back-up vox and harmonica on a few songs.
Her singing has become more expressive with each album; her singing is much fuller and richer nowadays. And the songs are performed in a more tuneful manner. Theyre immensely pleasurable to listen to, no matter how dark the subject matter. To some, this 30 something late bloomer seems like shes always still finding herself.
Jennifer is seemingly always on the road, most recently for a spell on the west coast with Damien Jurado. Next she headed back to Brooklyn for some east coast dates, leading to the midwest, and then back to the east coast, veering south for some dates supporting Amy Ray! Another interesting fact about her is that she is an avid eBay seller, trading mostly in records collected from Brooklyn stoop sales, and claims to have once sold a few records by experimental composer/songwriter Loren Mazzacane Connors for $200 or $300 to musician/producer Jim O'Rourke, who hoped to then re-master the recordings.
With OConnor theres no hair and make-up, its not her scene. She is all about the music. In a world of complete fakes, Jennifer is real, raw, and honest. Thoughtful, introspective and now rocking! Jennifer O'Connor sounds like no one who's come before, proving she's a dynamic musician. It's a voice that's aching and real.