Coco O’Connor’s journey from small-town Alabama to prominence as both a vocalist and songwriter reaches its latest apex with her new album. Big Reveal features ten songs built around the core lineup of O’Connor’s vocals, guitarist Will McFarlane, bassist Jamie McFarlane, drummer Justin Holder, pianist/keyboardist and vibraphonist Mark Narmore, Kimi Samson’s fiddle, and producer Grant Walden providing synthesizer parts. The studio setting is no impediment to them playing like a unit with several years of experience under their belts. Much of that is likely due to pre-existing connections between the album’s principals and the collective’s shared musical vision.
It provides instant magic. The album opener “Ain’t No Shame” is a raw and gritty stomper that sounds right at home given O’Connor’s Southern roots. There isn’t much genteel country about this one, it’s a pull out all the stops opener, but there’s soul for days and much of it comes courtesy of O’Connor’s pipes. The bluesy influence remains strong during the album’s second track “No Crossroads” and there’s plenty of grit present in the tune. O’Connor and her cohorts have an overall lighter touch than the opener, however. It helps accentuate the soulful elements of her presentation.
The title song pulls back on the reins even further. It has a moderate tempo, but the instrumentation favors a far lower-key approach than we have heard until now. Narmore’s piano playing fills a crucial role in the song and Will McFarlane’s guitar work is especially artful. It’s the album’s sole songwriting contribution from the partnership of O’Connor, frequent co-author Stephanie Brown, and ElizaBeth Hill and lingers as one of the album’s best. Jamie McFarlane’s bass line sets the stage for a great grove on “Flower in the Sidewalk” and each musician involved capitalizes on the opportunity. Drummer Holder, however, deserves extra plaudits for laying down the swing that gives this song much of its appeal.
Narmore’s organ playing for “Rosalie” fleshes that song out into a true burner. Some listeners will long for O’Connor to be perhaps a little rough and tumble with her vocal here; she plays much more to the song’s commercial aspects. It is a solid and satisfying tune overall and comes at a good place in the album’s running order. Anyone expecting O’Connor to throw her lot in with overwrought pop balladry when her turn at the plate for the album’s “big song” comes will be surprised to hear otherwise.
“1001 Things” kicks off vulnerable and understated. It remains so throughout. O’Connor and her bandmates accompany listeners through a world of immaculately arranged musical lyricism and melody It is expansive and patient without ever demanding too much of the listener’s time; anyone who understands the songwriting process will appreciate how much the band manages to “pack” into a song scarcely longer than three and a half minutes and never striking you as cluttered. It is one of the unquestionable peaks of an album filled with such moments and certain to win Coco O’Connor a larger audience than ever before.