Jennifer O'Connor

Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars

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Is she a folksinger with a rock aesthetic or a rock singer with folk leanings? It's hard to tell on Jennifer O'Connor's album Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars. The title is certainly folky, but O'Connor doesn't always stick to the "girl with a guitar" formula that might push it firmly into that genre. There are usually a bass and drum kit backing her up, as well as an electric guitar (though it's played more like an acoustic, with picked and lightly strummed chords), and while O'Connor does like pretty melodies, she stays away from the super-earthy major-key ones that dominate much of folk, choosing something closer to what Liz Phair, rather than Patty Griffin, might do. Her songs are all about love in one of its -- usually dysfunctional -- forms, speaking in the first person to an unnamed second person (the exception being "Sister," in which the title character is addressed), ranging from the apology in "I Was So Wrong" to the heartache in "Dirty City Blues" to the sweet, sentimental "Tonight We Ride." The latter, which employs a quiet simplicity to convey its message, has a familiar, comforting sound, like something that might have been sung around campfires of years past, but pieces like "Exeter, Rhode Island" and "Bullshit Maze," full of power chords and choruses made for bio-diesel car-singing, clearly show O'Connor's debt to the rock stars who came before her. Though the constant theme of broken and mended hearts can get rather predictable, her lyrics and voice are unaffected and straightforward, making everything on Over the Mountain seem honest and accessible and kind of fun, too. Which means that being able to classify O'Connor isn't really that important; what's more important is her music, and that, with its very human subject matter, speaks for itself.

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