Country Jukebox Jury LP: Blake O’Connor – Finding Light

I met Blake O’Connor at Buckle & Boots in 2019. He was barely out of his teens and was in the UK as part of the artist exchange which had taken Gary Quinn and Kezia Gill to the Tamworth Music Festival that January. Blake got to play there too, and won that year’s renowned Star Maker prize, which must always be followed by the sentence ‘Keith Urban won it in 1990’. Lee Kernaghan did so in 1982 and went on to be awarded the Order of Australia in 2004.

For his part, Blake is just happy to be making a living as an independent country artist down in Australia. This weekend (March 17-19), he’ll be at CMC Rocks, Australia’s version of Country2Country which this year is headlined by Morgan Wallen and Zac Brown Band. Blake has the 1145 hangover slot on the Sunday, on the second stage which will be closed by a one-two of Ernest then Hardy. I hope Blake meets the pair of those two writers in the Wallen camp, and gets a photo with Wallen himself.

Since the release of his debut album, also in 2019, Blake has put out tracks individually. Seven of them find their way onto Finding Light. The first of them was Willin’ and Ready, a toe-tapper with some rapid fire lyrics and some slide guitar and piano in the mix too. Kickin’ A Rock has some delicious Hammond organ and harmonica while Blake, with plenty of Stapleton in his voice, sings of how his ‘troubles are gone, gone, gone!’

Soul Feeling works its title with a marvellous rhythm and great vocal. Little Bit Longer (‘I know we’ve shared a heartache or two’) is one of those songs sung by a guy desperate not to lose his beloved. The backing vocalists offer some oohs while Blake gives it some welly. The production is tremendous as well, with nothing ‘in the box’ and sounding live and true.

The three tracks to immediately precede the album’s release were: Cover Me Up, which is not a Jason Isbell cover but a bluesy sex jam with the hook ‘cover me in your love’; Chained to the Ground, a triple-time tune where Blake advises a woman to fly and be free; and the album’s opening track Time to Kill. That song, which disguises a lost job and wife with a church music feel, reminds me of Ryan Tedder’s work with OneRepublic because of the handclaps.

The four new tunes build on the seven already in the world on album release day. Let a Bit of Light picks up the mood of Chained to the Ground, while Run With You is a rootsy Dierks Bentley-type song of the open road (with added cello!) which will go down really well at CMC Rocks.

I know it’s probably an obvious comparison given they’re Australia’s biggest rock’n’roll band, but I hear a bit of AC/DC in Honey, a rifftastic swampy blues where the elements swirl around Blake lyrically and musically. If You’re Looking Down closes the album on a melancholy note, as a finger-picked guitar forms the bed onto which Blake croons of how ‘when it rains, I dance in the puddles’.

Now if only we could entice Blake back to the Northern Hemisphere so we can hear him too!

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