The O'Donnell Brothers: Back in the Day (odbrosmusic)

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You Can't Hide
The O'Donnell Brothers: Back in the Day (odbrosmusic)

It was 1990 when I met Auckland bassist Greg O'Donnell. He was in Gray Bartlett's band going into Southern China – a year after the Tiananmen Square massacre – for concerts and music workshops. I was the tag-along journalist who was going to write something for the Herald.

It was a fascinating 10 days, Gray was generous with the Chinese students, the band and concerts were excellent, I got stories (a major feature on being in China at that time among them) and the band were fine company.

It would be many decades later that I discovered Greg – who had a solo spot each night, Chris De Burgh's Flying if I recall – was the same guy who had been in the Sixties group The Music Convention who unleashed one of the greatest surf-rock cum garageband psychedelic songs of the era: Bellyboard Beat.

When he sent this album on I joked that maybe they'd included a new version.

But that was then and this is now, although the title Back in the Day does suggest some looking over the shoulder by Greg and Robert O'Donnell on these 14 recent originals.

And the rock'n'roll-era opener Stood Up Again opens with “the record store” and “dancing by the jukebox”. (And cigarettes which perhaps also time-locks it).

Beam Me Up Scotty laments the demise of Auckland's Queen St and those good old days in references which people of a certain age will get immediately: “Remember Dylan and the Men from the Mersey, used to walk the dog for free, Columbus the Invader and the Caped Crusader, and a harlot by the name of Shiralee”.

Just a Working Man channels something of the sound of the Searchers/Beatles (“we sang those songs from Liverpool that seemed to show the way”) and Cold Waikato Blues finds them going back to their distant past for a story of Jackie and Bill, the flirting tease and the ill-fated object of her faux affection. It's not a cheerful memory.

Highway Romance is a bright pop ballad about teenage romance and the freedom of being on the road together.

However if these are the “back in the day” reflections, here too are songs about more contemporary life: Lockdown Lover is about the distance lockdown and masks create between a couple; Online Girl is about the uncertain search for love and companionship through the internet.

Then there are the timeless emotions about relationships which are undermined by suspicion if someone is often working late (the moody Making Me Suspicious), that chugging boogie-cum-power pop of Stood Up Again and – one of the best songs here – that moment when you are The Last to Know.

In a recent podcast interview with Danny McCrum, he read me my review of one of his early albums in which I said that crafted pop-rock like his probably wouldn't find a place because radio – even mainstream stations – didn't play local music like that. The imported kind, sure.

But a new local name means work: having to listen to an album, finding a song which would fit the format etc.

Not Danny's fault (his problem though) but the gatekeepers weren't that open.

I have no doubt when the O'Donnell songs are played live the audience would enjoy them but again, would radio be bothered?

I think not.

Admittedly the vocals are not the strongest but the songs are crafted and performed in a way which would familiar and appealing to people of the Brothers' demographic.

And on repeat play Stood Up Again, Just A Working Man, Push Me Away, the country-flavoured You Can't Hide and The Last to Know are naggingly good.


You can hear this album at their website here

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