Tomber Sur PRW
Need to Know
Trust that this, though the artist may be and certainly the title is unfamiliar, is a terrific singer-songwriter album. Now for the explanations: 1) Anton O’Donnell is a Scottish musician who somehow connected with longtime producer Brian Brinkerhoff who helmed this album with 18 musicians participating spread between Galway, Galsgow, London, Nashville, Austin, and California; 2) The title, Tomber Sur PRW, translated into English – Falling on PRW, the latter Paisley Road West where O’Donnell lives in Glasgow. The name for the album comes from a song he released in 2021, “Je Ne Sais Quoi” from the EP Where Art Thou April. He’d likely be better served with a more conventional title, but so be it. The musicians who accompany him should however resonate with Americana aficionados, the likes of keyboardist John Deaderick, pedal steel player Russ Pahl, fiddler Eamon McLoughlin, guitarist Doug Lancio, dobro player Rob Ickes, bassist Dennis Crouch, among the sidemen.
The back story is more compelling. O’Donnell, Brinkerhoff, and Brinkerhoff’s bassist Frank Swart had been working on a batch of 20 songs, eventually culling them to the nine that appear here, connected thematically around a loose theme of falling prey to various myths and related narratives on the bleaker aspects of today’s world. Brinkerhoff that passed these tapes around to the various musicians to track their parts but when it came time for O’Donnell to move to a final vocal instead of the demos, beset with health issues and a recent blood transfusion that should have occurred a year prior, he wasn’t happy and re-recorded all the vocal parts a second time, thus what you here on this record.
O’Donnell rails against society’s increasing divisiveness and even what my daughter was citing the other day in her observations, the lost art of kindness, as the Scotsman sings in his refrain “It’s just us, can’t we show some kindness.” To stomping accompaniment, he expands on this in “Skulduggery,” lamenting our acceptance of lies, the absence of faith, and ‘just the devil in man.’ He himself struggles to find faith in “Roots” but remains resilient nonetheless to the strains of Pahl’s pedal steel and background vocalists Kelley Mickwee and Alice Spencer. Rob Ickes’s dobro and McLoughlin’s fiddle imbue the lament “Dreams Fade Under the Weight,” as O’Donnell sings about the downward slide after one’s career has peak. Underlying that sentiment though is a ‘keep your chin up’ posture. The acoustic, beautifully pensive cello colored “Shine a Light” has O’Donnell extending an empathetic ear as Deaderick judiciously adds just the right piano notes.
The rollicking “It Never Lasts” has O’Donnell reminiscing about good times with a pal, noting the transitory nature of just about everything, propelled by Lancio’s electric guitar and Deaderick’s B3. The bleak “Set It On Fire” is the penultimate pandemic lament, as O’Donnell can barely contain his rage (“just a big black hole with a kill list”). The epic narrative “Madman on the Loose” has lyrics that will evoke “No Country for Old Men” right down to the name drop of Benicio del Toro and the sonic addition of a trumpet to convey the southwestern feel. The commingling of McLoughlin’s fiddle and Pahl’s steel brings us to a calm conclusion, a metaphorical urge to abandon the fight and start anew (“Sometimes the fire needs to rage before a new day is dawned”).
That odd album title aside, O’Donnell’s effort has sneakily become more of the better roots efforts of 2023. Be sure to absorb the lyrics in the booklet. They are provocative enough to surely encourage multiple listens.
- Jim Hynes
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