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Mary Kate O'Neil
Underground
71 Recordings
www.marykateoneil.com


Singer-songwriter-guitarist Mary Kate O'Neil finds a middle ground in smooth pop between the shallow layers of folk artist Hem and the blazing orchestral flourishes of Joanna Newsom. Her latest release Underground paves its own path through pop music's forest, taking orchestral elements and coating them in shades of country, folk and soft rock. Some tracks have a touch of '70s easy listening pop, and other have a modern pop tint relatable to Nicole Atkins. The songs are sparsely embellished and reflective in nature while hopeful in tone.

The soft orchestral pop trimmings of "Green Street" are made of glossy strings that swoop in and out of the melody and have an upbeat feel circled in jangly percussive beats and brightly hued guitar vibrations, which make for an easy listening experience. The sunny sprigs of psychedelic-toned synths in "Easy To Believe At First" have subtle elevations, and the glistening piano keys strung along "Mr. Freidman" enhance the reflective mood of the verses as O'Neil questions, "Where have you gone Mr. Freidman / I've heard you've lost your mind / Even more than when I knew you / When I saw they've closed your place / One thing I know is this town won't be the same." The lyrics have a bluesy edge to them as the music slants to a pop regiment.

The folksy guitar licks of "Saved," "Me, The Bee & The Miner" and the title track have emotive ups and downs while laminated in crystal-studded beats. The modern country-pop rhythms of "Nashville" and "Attention" are bound by breezy guitar riffs which move with a gentle feathering. The knee slaps of Jill Sobule and Ken Maiuri in "Attention" are subtle while shrouded in tenderly rippled strings and softly brushed drum strokes. These tracks have a meditative ambience that changes its coloring in "One Thousand Times A Day" with a chain of puffing horns linked to brightly tinted guitar vibrations and sunny-pop beats. The tracks have a Beach Boys shimmer and an upbeat tempo that moves right into "So Long" with cruising guitar licks and country-pop rhythms that have an uplifting pull.

The tracks have a tendency to want to pick oneself off of the floor after being knocked down, and show persistency about being optimistic and moving forward. The album is single-minded about being hopeful and moving past the bad hand of cards that life dealt out. O'Neil delves into modern pop with a set of eyes that sees nothing wrong with blurring the lines between country, folk, orchestral-pop, and soft rock. It's a vision that sees no division when putting different elements together when writing songs.

-Susan Frances

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