Artist: The O’Connor Band
Album: Coming Home
Label: Rounder Records
Release Date: 08/05/2016
It seems to be all in the family lately, given the fact that talented spouses and siblings alike are all taking time to gather around the hearth and exchange their musical wares. A list of last names says it all, with the Wainwright Family, the Thompson Family and the Watkins Family all finding common purpose via their creative collaborations. Of course, family outings have been a tradition in country and bluegrass music for decades — one need only mention the Carter Family as an example of one such staple — but the O’Connor Band ups the ante in terms of overall virtuosity. The paternal head of the ensemble, Mark O’Connor, needs no introduction — a former child prodigy, acclaimed composer, renown musician and multiple Grammy and CMA award winner, his name alone ensures the band’s marquee status. Fortunately, the other members of the group not only shore up his support, but lend ample contributions of their own. Wife Maggie sings and plays fiddle, son Forrest contributes mandolin and vocals, Forrest’s significant other, Kate Lee, adds more fiddle and singing, while the non kinfolk — guitarist Joe Smart, bassist and banjo picker Geoff Saunders and co-producer and percussionist Gregg Field — offer their own contributions to the O’Connor collective.
Despite their individual pedigrees and considerable prowess, this debut effort avoids temptation of unnecessary complications and simply focuses on the subtlety of its songs. The majority of the material comes courtesy of various individual members — Forrest and Kate Lee in particular — but various frenetic instrumentals, such as “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man,” “Fishers Hornpipe” and “Fiddler Going Home” also allow opportunity to reflect their virtuosity. Still, it’s the mellower melodies that take precedence, with songs such as “Always Do,” “The Sweet Ones” and “Coming Home” capturing the same sort of rustic ambiance and homespun intent so often associated with Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss.
That sweetness and sentiment makes Coming Home more than simply the instrumental showcase some might have easily anticipated. It emerges instead as a set of songs with far more potential for wider overall appeal. A most satisfying set-up, it bodes well for further family matters down the line.