Sure, when you first hear Edward O’Connell you get the Costello vibe, you get it bad (by which I mean you get something good). You might even think “Hey, this guy is putting out the albums I wish Elvis Costello would …” But the seemingly familiar Costello ring to the songs, to the vocals, to the turns of phrase is so much more than simply reminiscent. O’Connell has taken the inspiration and made it his own. And there is so much more influence afoot in his two albums of material: a bit of Matthew Sweet, a dash of Peter Case, even some Marshall Crenshaw and, of course, Nick Lowe and Tom Petty.
His debut record from 2010, Our Little Secret, is a solid start: a host of great tunes and a cover riffing off of Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool album and the unknown comic. “I Heard It Go” has a great turnaround in the chorus, “Cold Dark World” has wonderfully shimmery vocals, “We Will Bury You” is trademark Costello country, while “All My Dreams” sounds like a lost track from Imperial Bedroom. But the standout song on this album for me is the majestic “Pretty Wasted.” A real gem that exudes equal parts Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, with a lovely Nick Lowe lyrical sleight of hand with the line ‘She’s pretty wasted … pretty wasted on you.’ Pretty Wasted
Four long years passed before O’Connell’s sophomore effort, Vanishing Act, emerged in 2014, but it was worth the wait. The album kicks off with strong material in “My Dumb Luck” and “Lonely Crowd” but the third tune, “Every Precious Day,” is a master class in poprock songwriting: killer guitar riff opener, great Tom Pettyish vocals, with just a hint of Crowded House in the swirling organ and guitar work at the 2/3 mark. Other highlights include “Severance Kiss” (with another great guitar opener), “Odds Against Tomorrow,” “Yesterday’s World,” and “Last to Leave” with its exquisite low tempo atmosphere. “The End of the Line” deserves to be featured if only for its surprisingly aggressive guitar opener that then melds seamlessly into a super midtempo poprock number. But my favourite song on the record is the witty Nick Lowe-ish “I’m the Man,” a sad tale of a man who ‘should have seen it coming’ with his death-obsessed partner.
Besides the music, the best thing about O’Connell is the back story: intrepid university lawyer by day, poprock genius by night. Here’s a guy who trolled in the Washington D.C. rock and roll scene for decades, playing back up for various people, while holding down a legal day job, but finally decided to put his own creative efforts at the forefront rather late in life (at least according to the standard rock and roll biography). Better late than never, indeed.
Looks to be a strong live performer as well: here you can see him doing “Lonely Crowd” solo in Bethesda, Maryland.