Paul O’Brien – Walk Back Home – Paul O’Brien: vocals, guitar/ Uli Kringler: guitars, piano, percussion/ Lea Morris: harmony vocals/ Lars Hansen: bass/ Hans-Jorg Maucksch: fretless bass/ Hrolfur Vagnsson: accordion – Stockfisch Records Stereo-only SACD SFR 357.4064.2, 54:00 *****:
Paul O’Brien is an English singer-songwriter who basically chucked his folk-singing career midstream, moved his family to the Pacific Northwest and immigrated to Canada, where he accepted a teaching position in Victoria, British Columbia. Feeling burned out by the entire music scene, he immersed himself in his work and essentially abandoned any musical endeavors. But he found himself profoundly affected and inspired by Canada and its people, and his love for his new home helped reinvigorate his creativity. Before too long, his teaching position became a part time job, and soon, his music once again served as his primary vocation. He wrote and recorded two independently produced albums that garnered a great deal of media attention and critical praise in Canada, and his 2009 tour of the UK got the attention of Stockfisch Records’ Gunther Pauler, who quickly signed him to a record contract with the German audiophile label. Paul O’Brien is not only a great songwriter, but also a gifted instrumentalist and poet who offers heartfelt, uplifting accounts of his experiences.
In usual Stockfisch fashion, the artist has written brief but interesting descriptions of the songs that go a long way to help the listener gain insight into the creative process. The opening track, “Sacred Line,” is offered to the First Nation children of British Columbia and the challenges the aboriginal peoples face in integrating into the modern world. “Berlin At 5” is an uplifting tune that details some of the singer’s more memorable moments in life, and he always asks his concert audiences to reflect on their own lives and personal “highs” as he sings the song. “American Car” is based on the story of a prolonged touring absence from his family, and how his young son thought that a big American car could swiftly bring his daddy back home. I think my favorite song on the whole album might be “Misty Mountain,” which Paul says he wrote at seventeen, and for the life of him can’t really remember what the song is supposed to be about! The entire disc is filled with touching and often poignant prose that chronicles the people and places that have colored Paul’s existence on Vancouver Island.
Gunther Pauler’s early Stockfisch SACDs were incredibly well-recorded stereo-only discs, and after some experimentation with a few surround releases, it appears with their latest batch of releases that Stockfisch has returned to that winning stereo-only approach. Of course, the disc is a hybrid, and while I spent most of my time with the astonishingly good hi-resolution tracks, the CD layer offers some of the finest Redbook CD sound you’re likely to ever encounter – the sound here absolutely sparkles! Gunther Pauler is a remarkably good recording engineer, and he’s given us another gem with this new disc. Paul O’Brien’s website offers a wealth of information – including his personal blog – along with music clips, performance videos (some of them in HD!) and tour date listings. I’d definitely check it out, and I’d waste no time getting this excellent album, it’s very highly recommended! Five stars!
TrackList: Sacred Line; Berlin At 5; American Car; Walk Back Home; Madrona; Romero; Light The Way; He Can Dance; Without A Trace; Misty Mountain; The Finest Thread; Anniversary Day.
— Tom Gibbs