Never Too Late

Michael O'Neill

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Never Too Late Review

by Jonathan Widran

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.

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