Coco O’Connor’s new album Big Reveal is one of her best songwriting collections yet. The fifth album from this Alabama raised singer/songwriter blossoms with Southern influences galore, country, blues, jazz, and R&B all exist well within her wheelhouse, and she sounds comfortable working in any style. She’s surrounded by a first-class crew of some of the Americana scene’s best musicians – Will and Jamie McFarlane on guitar and bass respectively, Justin Holder playing drums, and Mark Narmore on piano and keyboards, to name a few. It’s the same row call for each of the release’s ten songs and they play as an effective band throughout while making the obvious as clear as possible – O’Connor is, ultimately, why we are here.
She proves that the time is well-spent from the first. We’re swept up by her passion as a singer and her ability to get under the skin of listeners with the first track. “Ain’t No Shame” bristles with an irrepressible spirit, as well, without ever slipping into overkill. The seasoned performer that she is shines through time and again during these songs. It certainly sets the album’s second track “No Crossroads” ablaze with the white-hot simmer of its groove and the plethora of well-executed turns built into the track’s arrangement.
“Flower in the Sidewalk” is reminiscent of the second track. It is a better overall song thanks to the stronger imagery present in its words and the groove that she and the band will feel like it has a stronger pull for some. The song’s central imagery is perhaps one of the best things about the album’s songwriting, it’s certain to make this track a favorite for many, and O’Connor plays it right. Her vocal doesn’t push the image down listeners’ throats in any way – nor in the remainder of the song.
“Goin’ Nowhere” is one of the album’s most musically complete tracks with a twisting arrangement that’s never involved for complexity’s sake alone. O’Connor, instead, realizes the songwriting’s possibilities with a genre-crossing performance threading blues, R&B, jazz, and even some rock through an improbable needle. It pays off, however, and will likely prod you into coming back for more.
“Summer Rain” is a little funk in its pop song step, nothing hardcore, and the guitar playing punctuates the tempo with a vivid rock flair. It’s a natural single without ever sounding empty; the musical substance beyond the guitar is clear as well. The rhythm section is especially solid here without ever calling attention to themselves. Fiddle plays a pivotal part in the album finale “Redbeard” and practically duets, albeit wordlessly, with O’Connor’s vocal. The beauty is decidedly elegiac, even melancholy, but undeniable.
It’s a powerful way to end the album and not a downer at all. This collection clearly values musical tradition, but O’Connor and her contemporaries just use it as a jumping-off point. The music always keeps touching base with its roots, yes, but without any of the outright imitation plaguing lesser purveyors of the style. There’s nothing lesser about this. Coco O’Connor’s Big Reveal is a cut above all the way.