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Declan O’Donovan - Self-Titled CD

CD: nine tracks; 36 minutes

Declan O’Donovan hails from Whitehorse, Northwest Territories, Canada, and cut his teeth with the popular alt rock/blues party band Scotch. He now splits his time between his hometown and Montreal. A recent winner of the Westcoast Songwriters International Songwriting Competition in the blues category, O’Donovan wrote all of the material on this debut CD, an amalgamation of blues, jazz and roots, which was produced with the assistance of the Yukon Electronic Development Film and Sound Commission.

If Tom Waits and Randy Newman had a child, he’d probably sound something like O’Donovan, whose work on the keyboards drives this work consistently from beginning to end. He’s accompanied by a crew of top-flight, Yukon based sidemen – Bruce Bergman on guitars, dobro and backing vocals, Robert Bergman on upright bass and Lonnie Powell on drums. But their work is buried perfectly in the background. Co-produced with Jordy Walker and recorded at Bob Hamilton’s Old Crow Studio in Whitehorse, the resulting effort creates a CD that, while hard to categorize, makes for good listening if you’re in a mellow mood.

O’Donovan has a gritty, slightly nasal voice not unlike Waits -- minus several barrels of whisky and scrapes along a gravel road. And his piano stylings are simple, clean and effective. He uses repetitive figures to propel each of his songs forward. Most of the tunes are slightly dark and introspective, possibly from the viewpoint of a man looking back at his life and seeking forgiveness for the mistakes made along the way.

The highlight of this disc is “Cheap Souvenir,” for which he earned the recent songwriting honor. In it, the road-weary singer reflects on life on the road. All of the bright lights and success “just like a camera -- cheap souvenir -- it all means nothing ‘cause you’re not here.” He promises to take her along the next time he goes. He carries the theme forward in “A Bitter Rain,” a more uptempo theme in which “when you’ve lost all hope, don’t know what to do, I’ll work the piano cryin’, thinking about you.”

“Death of a Salesman” is an allegorical story of a grifter at St. Peter’s gate. “It’s the first party I’ve been to I couldn’t sneak in the back door,” he says. He insists on having a word with the Man Upstairs, sure he can talk his way in, even though “it’s far too late.”

The CD concludes with “Where You Are,” a wistful, sweet song of longing and loss, and “Outro,” an instrumental that gives the band a chance to stretch out and the listener a chance to reflect on what he’s just heard.

The disc is short, but sweet nonetheless and highly recommended. O’Donovan, who’s already earned a sponsorship from Sirius XM, deserves a spot in your listening library. Here’s hoping he finds some happiness to write and sing about along the way.! 

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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