Like most guys who make a great living jamming behind bigger stars, guitarist Michael O'Neill -- whose resume boasts a few years in the '80s with Stevie Wonder and a nearly nonstop two decades with George Benson -- took years to find the time amidst the world tours to compose and produce an entire album's worth of material. It's easy to identify each these influences on a track-by-track basis on Never Too Late. The title track, co-written with Gregg Karukas, finds O'Neill approximating the crisp electric "breezin'" of Benson, darting high-fluttering tones off the main melody as wah-wah click textures call out in the background. Ditto on the mid-tempo retro-soul ballad "Winds of Summer," which opens with a brisk hook that features a higher tone than the verse sections, very much like "Breezin'." Pianist Dave Witham (another vet from the Benson crew) chimes in at one point with a quick but playful solo before O'Neill digs into a deeper tone on a solo that runs like trickling water. O'Neill pays homage to Stevie Wonder, too, opting to play things fairly close to the vest on a thoughtful cover of Stevie Wonder's "Visions," with vocals by Carl Anderson. "I Ain't Lyin'" dips into that Crusaders vibe O'Neill mentions, opening with a dense high-hat percussion swirl by Land Richards and Dio Saucedo's tambourine and easing into a rocking electric guitar melody over the bluesy organ harmony of Chris Ho with plenty of Wayne Henderson-like horn splashes by Walt Fowler. Just as the Crusaders at times crossed from R&B to jazz, O'Neill breaks at one point for heated guitar and piano improvisations. Mid-tempo meditations like "Sidewalk Strut" and the Brazilian-flavored acoustic piece, "Cruisin' on Down" (featuring O'Neill's lively scatting), offer more evidence of the guitarist's ability to both people please and stretch stylistic boundaries ever so slightly.
Never Too Late Review
by Jonathan Widran