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Tara Jane O'Neil - You Sound, Reflect

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Artist: Tara Jane O'Neil

Album: You Sound, Reflect

Label: Quarterstick

Review date: Oct. 19, 2004

Tara Jane O'Neil’s established a serious musical history for herself, kicking around Louisville for years, in and out of bands like Rodan, the Sonora Pine, Drinking Woman and Retsin. Despite her long experience, her records never seem routine or rote; she’s a risk taker and a self-reinventor. Her most recent records have been daring in the sense of being emotionally naked - her collaborations with Cynthia Nelson as Retsin have always been intensely personal. Their final album together was A Cabin in the Woods, recorded while the two of them camped out for a summer in a cabin in upstate New York. It’s such a direct expression of the circumstances of its creation that it’s not surprising when the listener feels more like an eavesdropper than an audience. The record Ida and Retsin made together, The Ida Retsin Family Album 1, provokes a similar response. It seems almost like an invitation to imagine oneself a member of the rotating cast of friends and family floating in Tara Jane O'Neil’s orbit.

Naked emotion quickly wears thin, however; what was sweet can become saccharine and what was intimate becomes suffocating. Thankfully, O'Neil avoids the temptation to delve more deeply into her soul on You Sound, Reflect, a self-recorded solo album. Instead, she trades in sentimentality and sweetness for sophistication. The meditative, leisurely songs on here aren’t as immediately engaging as her earlier work, but they’re ultimately more rewarding.

The opener, "Take the Waking," is a gentle yet perfectly executed intro to the album and an indicator of the shape to come. Mournful organ notes segue slowly into more energetic guitar as the song slowly develops. Throughout, Kristina Davies’ backing vocals drift in and out, never rising above the level of background. The effect is haunting, but not too sweet; discord and noise keep the song slightly off kilter. The next couple of songs reintroduce O'Neil’s vocals and acoustic guitar under a distinctly distanced vibe. "The Poisoned Mine" offers up a nice balance between O'Neil’s voice and her guitar, and if the arrival of the violin a minute into the song is a bit too perfectly predictable, the edge in O'Neil’s voice, which she pushes to the very edge of her control, gives the song the bite and unpredictability it needs.

You Sound, Reflect flirts with unpredictability throughout, keeping the listener slightly off balance. O'Neil’s testing out new territory here; she brings her old acoustic guitar along, but she’s not afraid to experiment with some new electronic gadgetry as well. O'Neil’s earlier foray into more abstract and less intimate work, like 2002’s Music for a Meteor Shower, a collaboration with Ida’s Dan Littleton, didn't work; it seemed an improvisational exercise conducted solely for the enjoyment of the participants. You Sound, Reflect finally strikes the perfect balance between artistic virtuosity and emotional weight. While some fans may regret trading away the emotional intimacy O'Neil offered before, the artistic maturity and complexity that have taken its place seem like more than a fair trade.

By Emily Wanderer

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