It's easy to get stuck in a rut within certain genres (female-fronted folk-pop and Byrds-y power pop are both treacherous examples), which is why the eponymous debut from Marykate O'Neil is so entertaining. O'Neil successfully welds both of the aforementioned subgenres into a seamless whole, and that's where this album gets its charm -- simply because, while it seems so obvious, very few actually do it, or do it well. O'Neil is the protégée of sorts of Jill Sobule (who produced and co-wrote most of this album and is one of the few others to produce a similarly successful fusion in the '90s), and her tendency to craft smart, lyrically compelling songs manifests itself all over this disc. In fact, the list of contributors to this disc reads a bit like a who's who of the power pop world: Dennis Diken of the Smithereens, Mike Deming of the Pernice Brothers, Brad Jones, Pat Buchanan, Ross Rice, and more all pitch in. A lot of the album is gentle, acoustic fare -- the opening "Hudson," the wistful "U-Haul" -- but a lot is also bouncy guitar pop, too, like "Mundane Dream." And the songs are woven together into a mini-concept album of sorts about moving out of your hometown and into the big city. Once again, that isn't particularly revolutionary, but that isn't the point, either. The real centerpiece is O'Neil's vocals; she tends a remarkably restrained style, her purring and sighing acting as the perfect accompaniment for her modest music. The touches of modest genre-shifting only enhance this, elevating it from a simple "guitar pop" or "folk" record and into something more interesting. And as if that weren't enough, O'Neil tosses a modest cover of the Spice Girls' "Stop" -- one of their very best songs -- right into the middle of the running order. Using her slightly bookish sensibility, warm vocals, keen sense of humor, and understanding of what makes a good pop song, O'Neil has crafted a winning debut that's alternately pretty and infectious.
Marykate O'Neil Review
by Jason Damas