Nora O’Connor’s list of credits providing backing vocal support, both in the studio and on tour, is as long as her arm. She’s recorded and toured with Iron and Wine, The Decemberists, Andrew Bird, Robbie Fulks, and sang on Mavis Staples’ “You Are Not Alone” album produced by Jeff Tweedy. Knocked off the road during the pandemic, O’Connor took the time to focus on her own music, writing, singing, and stepping into center stage to sing and play the kind of folk/rock and pop that hints at influences from a kinder, gentler era and the likes of Linda Rondstadt, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon.
“My Heart” is O’Connor’s take on a piano pop song, while “Sore” relies on guitars to carry the darker tones of the “broken-hearted soul,” and some soulful soloing. Leaving lots of room on top for O’Connor’s vocal lead the band made up of Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough (who both also play in NRBQ), and Alex Hall, three of her band-mates from her local Chicago group, The Fast Five, with additional help from Steve Dawson on guitars and Wurlitzer, Robbie Gjersoe adding dobro and electric guitar, and Jon Rouhouse who contributed pedal steel, most notably on the country-tinged “Follow Me.” “It’s Alright Now,” is an elegant Bacharach-like ballad, while a trio of the later songs, “Tarot Card,” “Outta Space,” and “Fare Thee Well” fall somewhere on the folk/rock, Americana spectrum, with an airy early 70’s feel, without sliding into retro.
Nora O’Connor has been pulled back on tour, spending some of 2021 on the road with Neko Case and The New Pornographers, with talk of further dates with Case in the new year. And she’s carved out some local showcases and more intimate performances to share these new solo works, from her first solo album nearly two decades. She has found her own voice as a songwriter and lead vocalist across nine songs (one is an uneventful instrumental) on My Heart, and fans of old school songwriting and true voices will want to add this appealing release to their playlist.
Brian Q. Newcomb
For more of Brian Q. Newcomb’s music reviews, check out The Fire Note
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