Album Review: Maz O’Connor – The Longing Kind

0006055269_10The newest offering from Maz O’Connor is an album I was quite excited about listening to, as an artist I’d heard good things about, but never actually heard. Released earlier this year and produced by Jim Moray, who also accompanies on some tracks, The Longing Kind weaves delicately between the upbeat and the melancholy throughout its twelve songs. What’s even better is that the CD made bearable an hour-long traffic jam on the M25 at 01:00 whilst driving back from one of my own shows.

The introduction to The Longing Kind passes sleepily, and is barely noticeable before blending into the title track. I immediately noticed a heavy use of the cosmic-like guitar echoing in the background, which accompanies O’Connor’s voice well. The chorus is immediately a catchy one; easy to pick up, and setting the tone for the album to be a pleasant and upbeat listen; though lacking anything experimental or energetically dance-y. Again, in A Winter’s Blues the vocals draw the track in without too much of a burst. The blend from the first track is rather well done, but unfortunately does not do a great deal to distinguish the two songs. Crook of His Arm breaks this trend, with the introduction of the percussion and Jim Moray’s backing vocals. The eerie guitar sounds make a return, but the real standout in the musical accompaniment is the cello (Beth Porter). The fourth track on the album, it quickly became my favourite one so far; particularly with the interesting changes brought in later on.

Mother Make my Bed continues to pick up speed for the album, and I could see it easily being a popular one with audiences; but it’s perhaps a little too much of a pop song for my tastes. The unusual addition of the trumpet (Nick Malcolm) immediately made me consider that the album will appeal to fans of bands like Keston Cobblers Club. The transition is done well into Greenwood Side, a worthy centrepiece to the album. I cannot help but being reminded of its namesake, the famous murder ballad played by the likes of Kim Lowings, Nancy Kerr, and Bellowhead. Despite being a new song written by O’Connor, the same dark undertones are felt in this folk-rock masterpiece. The full band seems to make an appearance here, with electric guitar interweaving spectacularly alongside the cello and double bass. Though I couldn’t help notice here that the song appears to go on about half a minute longer than is listed on the back of the album; the later tracks all seem to do this as well.

After the melancholic breakdown of the sixth track, Emma seems relatively quieter in composition; the placing of the track here does not do it the justice it deserves. Once one gets accustomed to the piano accompaniment as a standalone song, it becomes thoroughly beautiful before O’Connor picks up her guitar once again for Jane Grey. From a historical viewpoint, I found the lyrics really interesting to interpret which displays an incredibly thoughtful side to O’Connor’s song-writing; musically, however, the song adds little that hasn’t already been showcased by the earlier tracks. Coming Back Around begins a return to the slow and sleepy motifs showcased at the album’s opening, but quickly builds into a pleasant listen. The vocal tune here doesn’t follow the guitar accompaniment as strictly in melody as one would expect, which adds to the experience. The ending, however, seemed rather abrupt.

For me, A Rose instantly became another highlight. It develops the existing calm atmosphere, but I cannot see how anyone can fail to fall in love with the melody. The ending of the song crossfades interestingly into the final piece, which I can imagine would be odd to listen to in the digital age of “shuffle songs”, but When the Whisky Runs Dry quickly becomes faster and louder in comparison to the rest of the album. It’s a good one to end with, even if it is in danger of being considered by some to be yet another breakup song from a singer-songwriter.

With The Longing Kind, Maz O’Connor offers an album of contrasts. Some of the songs were easy to get into straight away, whereas others may take slightly longer. On a second listen, my thoughts on this latter grouping did change somewhat, though the highlights of the album seem relatively obvious. On a first listen, I did find some elements slightly repetitive in some of the songs, though Greenwood Side, Crook of his Arm, Emma, and A Rose all do exceedingly well in taking O’Connor’s sound to somewhere interesting that we haven’t heard before. I would definitely be interested in seeing how the songs are performed live; preferably with the delicate work of the bowed string section, which I’ve already mentioned that I am a fan of. Overall, the album is a nice piece of work, full of genuinely honest songs that are both pleasant and easy to listen to, even if the sleeve notes themselves may be difficult to approach for the podophobic listener.

More info: http://www.mazoconnor.com/

Review by Simon James Chisholm