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Love the Light

Owen O'Brien

A guitar & voice album that started life as a sort of demo and grew into a release. He’s a gifted worship leader from ChurchCentral Birmingham, who can play with passion. This ‘dozen songs for a fiver’ package is mostly original material, and there are one or two surprises, as well.

The first of these surprises is the deliberate lack of detail on the paperwork. These days, with most of my music purchases being made over the interweb, the role of the CD case (when I return to yesteryear’s technology) must step up, with photography, whimsy, musician details, etc and this one’s a bit of a triumph of style over content. Nice venetian blind, shame about the total lack of photography.

Tear-Jerking

Opener All Holy God brings another surprise (following a very jaunty bunch of worshipful stock phrases over the chord pattern of 70’s Christian guitar-tutorial favourite Can it be True?). Following a standard structure, the energy drops a little for a middle-eight packed with a list of the attributes of God. Then we’re back to the main theme again. I suppose I was expecting a fade or a key change, repeat, false finish and then a fade, but there is so much more. It seems someone stepped on Owen’s toe 3’58” into his performance. Then all manner of enthusiasm breaks out as he explores his higher register, assisted by someone grimly tightening a capodastro unfortunately positioned upon his person, turning the screw at 4’08”. Exhausted, Owen repeats and rallentando’s.

The next surprise comes in Saved by Grace, which starts as a reggae version of the previous track, with different, theologically strong lyrics, liberally peppered with Bible quotes. The demo vocal’s tuning accuracy is usually there or thereabouts, and could do with a little beefing up via some complex outboard gear, but that’s not really a criticism, since this is not paraded or priced as having expensive production. The Guantanamo Bay moment arrives at 2’57”, simmers a little and then returns with clenching force (after a key change) at 3’35”, 3”42, 3’49 and finally at 3’54”. The song comes to a conclusion with multiple repeats of the title phrase, which are hookier than I realised at first.

Poetic skill

The title song is a powerful medium-pace testimony, describing mankind’s love for the darkness and hatred of the light. The poetry is well-considered and the delivery excellent throughout ‘I’ll never look back, and I shine a way for you, hey, hey!’ It’s not a worship song, and that’s what gives the writer the licence to perform it in a way that a congregation never could. Nice one.

The Christmas carol Unto us features an extraordinary harmonic falsetto and the syllable-packed lines ‘Even though I didn’t know anything about you/And before I didn’t realise I couldn’t live without you.’ Something about the 20 seconds of layered vocals at the conclusion of this song (from 2’41’) reminded me a little of one of the many versions of Roxanne that Sting has recorded. Except this song isn’t about a prostitute, obviously.

Lacking porridge

And In my Place starts with a jangly, broken rhythm derived from of the music of comedy geniuses Flight of the Conchords, which is a great way to win affection. More great poetry, too: ‘Salvation/Spoke into the midnight of my misery/Brought me face to face with my iniquity/Then threw it into the deepest of the deepest sea/Forever.’ I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m not a huge fan of the shrill end of Owen’s register, and that his music is strong enough to be enhanced by a full band, as often the guitar-only demo emptiness needs some additional porridge.

Which is also true for Gratefully Eternally, with vocal gymnastics that might make some listeners think of Mick Hucknall, rarely a thought which could be termed pleasant. Or Seal’s rendering of Kissed from a Rose. But the disappointingly brief guitar solo makes a nice change.

Tin delivery

O Holy Spirit Come is a congregation-pleaser – that sounds a disparaging term, but what I mean is that it’s straightforward enough even for the non-musical to sing along. It’s an invitation for power, signs & wonders and the presence of God, and it seems to work. Exactly what it says on the tin.

It is Finished was always going to have good lyrics, so I’ll quote again: ‘It is finished/The curtain is torn in two/Access for those he foreknew/Into His Kingdom.’ The song is a theological statement rather than just a collection of standard worship-song clichés, which is refreshing as well as worshipful. It’s as if Mike Sandeman has collaborated – oh yes, the commitment to avoiding cliché is that good.

Good finish

Fingerpicking breaks out for Crucified with Christ, which has a fabulous John Martyn’s May You Never vibe (without the percussive rhythm, the amputation or indeed the sad passing of this giant). ‘I will put myself upon the cross/And Christ upon the throne/Only to be included in his death/And in his life to reign.’

Double-tracked vocals breathe fresh interest into All Things New. All things except the tune, I’m afraid. Double-strum showboating impressed me towards the end of the track.

How can I bring you more Glory? feels like the best of Brooke Fraser’s fab album Albertine, which continues to grow on me, way beyond the gushing review elsewhere on these pages. ‘To glorify you, Saviour/With works that last forever/Displaying your treasures every day.’

And the demo closes with a re-rendering of a spectacularly class hymn Jesus Lives! Thy terrors now. Poetry with legs and worship with great passion. Good way to finish. Owen’s voice is starting to feel a touch thin, but the miracle boxes which can be found in recording studios can more than solve any weakness, so it’s a far from fair criticism, since this is a demo.

A brave effort, that demands attention from a band and a quality producer. A well-rehearsed collection of beevees would also add oomph. Come on someone, believe in the O’B.


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