It’s understandable, all the critical hoopla ’n’ hooey surrounding Elvis Costello’s “return to his ‘old’ sound” on last year’s When I Was Cruel. So is the advance buzz on Joe Jackson’s new Volume 4, which reunites him with his Look Sharp-era band cronies. But for the rest of us who don’t put all our faith in the party line, some attention focused upon lesser-knowns can be a welcome change. I submit for your approval, then, one P.J. O’Connell, a North Carolina expat now living in Eastham, Mass., whose spirit-of-the-late-’70s sound comes across as vibrantly spontaneous as the records from divas Costello and Jackson seem cynical and calculated. O’Connell, who sometimes tours under the moniker the Flying Pigs, is blessed with a Costello-meets-Graham Parker set of pipes, minus the Brit accent. Stylistically, he favors a low-key but sleek approach that brings to mind, variously, Rockpile, Marshall Crenshaw, NRBQ, the dB’s and Big Star. If that sounds like a recipe for pub-rockin’ power-pop, go directly to the head of the class and glom onto O’Connell’s “Application,” an urgent, Flamin’ Groovies-go-baroque classic-in-the-making. Jangly riffs abound as well, notably on the luscious, heartbeats-and-12-strings “Holiday” and the Searchers/ Byrdslike “Better Get Up.” For roots-rockers, there’s plenty of twang on display; check the agitated, neo-rockabilly shuffle “Happiness Is Havin’” and a rambunctious cover of the old Milt Gabler-penned chestnut “Where’d You Go Last Night?”
In case anyone needs a character ref before taking the plunge: Not only has O’Connell toured and recorded with the aforementioned NRBQ over the years, the ’Q crew, along with the equally legendary T-Bone Wolk (Costello, Hall & Oates) and the almost-as-legendary Chandler Travis (Incredible Casuals, Travis & Shook), serves as his backing band on Happy Go Lucky. ’Nuf said.
E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].