Chris O’Brien @ Red Cat, Birmingham, AL, 15 May 2010 (review)

The best thing about dating someone who is as passionate about music as I am — and who has a lot of tastes that vary differently from mine — is discovering new music, often defying expectations (my own, I should note).

I had heard some of Chris O’Brien’s tracks from my girlfriend, and was non-plussed.  The tracks aren’t bad, not at all — but it’s folk-ish, singer/songwriter type stuff, not really in my wheelhouse. The lyrics are good, but it took me a while to get into those (I’m much more music oriented than lyrical).  But he’s been to Birmingham twice before, and he’s got a hometown connection with my girlfriend, so we decided to go.

It was a great choice. We got there a little early (there were various times listed for the show start, from 8 to 9 PM, and we erred on the side of early), so we caught Hannah Miller and Emily Lynch, two songwriters that played a dual set, alternating every two songs or so. Not bad — Emily was less enjoyable for me, leaning a bit more country, but Hannah has a really nice smoky voice and a good feel for chord voicings.

They finished up, and Chris took the stage… and then got off the stage. Since there were only ten or so of us in the audience, Chris took his guitar and sat on a table in the middle of the coffee shop.  I’m not sure if it was the more intimate feel, or the stripped-down versions of his songs, but the night was really engaging and provocative in a way that I never would have expected. It was a good mix of material from both his discs — he put a lot of life into his old material (hard to do when you play it all the time) and seemed really excited and familiar with his newer stuff.

Chris is on tour right now — make sure if you have a chance you check him out, whether you are a fan of the genre or not.  His songs are moving and meaningful, and he’s got a really good stage presence as well that keeps you there during the breaks. It’s a show well worth your while.

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