29 May 2023

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Arun O'Connor - Album Review: Songs From The Reading Room

17 Jun 2022 // A review by Roger Bowie

Arun O’Connor is as good as gold when I speak to him in dark and gloomy Invercargill about his new album, his debut album, Songs From The Reading Room, which came out sneakily in late April. 

You can see my interview with Arun in my interview series, ‘It’s a Wrap with Roger” here, but the dark and gloomy winter afternoon seems appropriate when you play the first song on the album, When the Darkness Comes Around. Here comes the earnest, almost desperate pitch of a Joe Walsh like vocal supported by Eagles power chords on this big breezy ballad and the tone is set. 

Arun O’Connor grew up on 70's music, more rock than country but more country than prog or hard, and more southern than most apart from the Eagles. You only have to go to Top Paddock in Gore during Tussock Country Festival week to understand that way down south they love their country to rock and they love it retro and it’s in their sweet home Southland hearts.

Don’t, therefore Let Go of my Heart which follows with a classic country intro and a plinkety plunk and reflects one of Arun’s first successful efforts of making the jump from covers to original material. Prompted almost out of necessity by winning Gold Guitar in 2018 and Southland Musician of the Year in 2020 and being shipped off to Nashville to record a song with Jay Tooke, one of Nashville’s rising production stars and former drummer with The Steel Woods.

Another Reminder starts off with a piano beat which evokes Bruce Hornsby, but the outcome is the same, southern country rock where the eagles have landed. Arun O’Connor never thought he could write a song but needs must collides with a certain maturity and worldly wisdom and the capacity to observe and reflect on his own experiences and those near to him. Mostly sad, he doesn’t yet know how to write a happy song, just to be happy doing it. Orchestral intros and manoeuvres, another plaintive attempt to play Games I Can’t Win. Big Duane Allman guitar.

Classic country pathos and a voice to match as he tries not to hide from The Truth before the rock beat returns on the first single from the record, Too Far Gone.

And so it goes. There’s no denying the influences here, the familiarity that speaks to the timelessness of country in all its forms. Unashamedly retro. Refreshingly contemporary. The more it changes, the more it stays the same. Arun O’Connor writes timeless tunes about timeless issues of the game we call life. This is a collection of eleven songs which we hear as new but we know already. And they are all strong, all sing along, whether you are in the car or the reading room or on the dance floor, sober or not, vinegar or gravy, there’s a beat or a riff or a melody which will tap your feet and warm your heart and chill your soul. Try hard, you can’t just Walk Away.

Recorded between Invercargill and Nashville in virtual reality (who would have imagined writing those words 20 years ago), Songs From The Reading Room adds yet another dimension to the growing links between Kiwi country and the polished Nashville sound. Which can be whatever you want it to be, Cash or Nelson or Beatles or Floyd or Skynyrd, there’s always someone on hand who can render it just so. 

Arun’s on the road throughout the South Island next month with good mate and fellow Gold Guitar winner Jaydin Shingleton. Maybe the north island is next. Maybe Australia. Maybe a visit to Fame studios in Muscle Shoals for the sophomore.

Who knows? All we know is Arun O’Connor has made a serious statement with Songs From The Reading Room. And that means he’s good as gold. And so are we.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Arun O'Connor

With the release of his infectious, rockin' new single Too Far Gone and his upcoming debut album Songs from the Reading Room, Arun O'Connor offers a powerhouse showcase for 'Kiwi Country' and a primer on just how vibrant, soulful and kickass country music is in his native New Zealand. On a more personal level, the multi-talented singer-songwriter – who's been on the scene in the country's Southland (southernmost) region for 15 years, or about half his life – he's continuing a dynamic family legacy that includes his dad, Southland Rock n Roll Hall of Famer Dave O'Connor and three older brothers who played drums.

In addition to leading the popular cover band Small Feet for the past 11 years, O'Connor has built a stellar rep as a session and touring musician and musical director for internationally renowned New Zealand country greats Jody Direen, Kayla Mahon, The Heartleys and more.

O'Connor is also a three time nominee for Southland Entertainer of the Year (winning the award in 2020) and he won the 2018 Southland Musician of the Year Award.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Arun O'Connor


Songs From The Reading Room
Year: 2022
Type: Album

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