LA based singer songwriter Todd O’Keefe has a long music CV to his name, having played as a touring and session musician for the likes of Jeff Beck, Ray Davies, and The Posies, among others. Previously the bass player for Los Angeles power pop quartet, The 88, as well as the psych rock trio, The Green And Yellow TV, Todd has now stepped out and recorded his first solo album, ‘Uptown’.
‘Uptown’ is a quick listen. Although there a ten tracks, the entire album is only 28 minutes long, meaning you’re not made to feel as if it’s dragging on, but rather you’re left wanting more. Todd’s sound is at once akin to John Lennon mixed with a heavy dose of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. It’s a good sound: album opener ‘The Man On The Mountain’ is pure folk with its acoustic guitar, tambourine, and simple percussion. The second song, ‘My Hometown’ has a definite Beatles-esque feel about it – definitely a song that John Lennon could have written.
We’re still in Beatles mode with ‘The Day She Said Goodbye’, with a similar sound to that of the Fab Four’s earliest work. Again with the acoustic guitar and tambourine, O’Keefe makes good use of minor keys to take the listener into a highly emotional state. Fourth track, ‘I Hate To See You Go’ is raw with a hard folk edge, and a ripping harmonica. This song showcases the strength of O’Keefe’s considerable vocal talents, and shows why he’s been the session musician of choice for so many top artists.
‘Uptown’ is stripped down and bare, along the lines of Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, or Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’. ‘Highwayman’, the halfway mark of the album, contains the narrative of a highwayman, a robber who steals from travellers. Our immediate impression is that it reminds us of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Sailing To Philadelphia’ – much shorter, much more raw, but equally as compelling.
‘Laughing Gas For The Idle Class’ is pure Dylan – specifically ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’: if you close your eyes you can even see him singing it – and this is further brought home when O’Keefe whips out his harmonica. It’s over way too soon however, and we’re back to The Beatles with ‘Say It Isn’t So’.
Todd O’Keefe’s voice is compelling, and chameleon. He appears to be able to reproduce pitch perfectly any artist at will. We’re not saying his entire style is borrowed from others – we’ve really enjoyed this album. It’s more an homage than a direct copy of anyone in particular, and reflects his tastes and inspirations. O’Keefe’s songwriting defends itself against the best of Brill Building pop, or the Great American Songbook. Infectious lyrics and hooky, uptempo tracks, it’s clear the man has enormous talent.
‘Misty’s Always Late’ keeps up O’Keefe’s narrative style, and is a song that is easy to visualise in the mind’s eye, which would make it a prime candidate for a music video. He follows this up with slower paced, Oasis-like ‘In The Eyes Of Fools’. Again with the minor keys, we’re feeling sad before we even know why, and the harmonica only adds to the sadness.
“I felt that each song had to stand up without any overdubs or embellishments of any kind,” says O’Keefe. “Each chord and lyric had to have a purpose for being there. I didn’t allow myself the luxury of sweetening things up with harmonies or electric guitars or whatever. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the basic song as it was written.”
‘Uptown’ is recorded entirely in mono, with the reasoning being that this would reinforce the lack of pretension of the songs.
“It was definitely a conscious decision to present the songs this way,”“It’s a reaction to what I feel is the over-hyped, over commercialisation of a lot of modern entertainment…in fact, even me talking about the record so much is a little more hype than I think is necessary – it is what it is – What else can we talk about?”
‘She’s Upstairs’ feels like a nod to both Dylan and Woody Guthrie. It’s the perfect way to end the album, and if you’re anything like us, will make you want to go back to the beginning and start listening all over again.
Find out more about Todd O’Keefe online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, and his official website.
‘Uptown’ is available from Todd’s website, Amazon, iTunes, and to stream on Spotify.