It all comes down to the voice. An artist may have some great songs but unless they’re Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan, chances are that I will not even think twice about an artist’s music if the vocals don’t appeal to me. Hammond, LA native Todd O’Neill is an artist with a voice. It’s a rich, warm, emotive singing voice that really pleases the ears. It’s soothing. After the voice is the quality of songs and if they match the quality of the voice then you’ve got the makings of a great record. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call Todd O’Neill’s “Real Life” a great record, it’s a very solid one.
Leading off the record is “I Need You” and it instantly shows off Todd’s stellar vocals. The lyrics, over a punchy, acoustically driven melody, discuss all the various ways in which O’Neill needs the love of his life. While this is an time-tested topic that’s getting a little old, O’Neill really sells the song with his voice. “Can I Come Over Tonight” was the first single and it is a nice slice of slow-burnin’ country R&B a la Ronnie Milsap or, currently, James Otto.
Mixin’ in a bit of New Oreleans zydeco with his modern country rhythms, O’Neill has managed to make a little fun, radio-ready ditty in “Cajun Queen.” The title track, “Real Life,” is a nice, mid-tempo reminder that life isn’t what is often portrayed in Hollywood. The perfect ending doesn’t work that way. But that doesn’t stop O’Neill from wishing real life ended with “a perfect kiss.” There are a pair of tracks that have a fun, get-in-the-car-and-drive vibe to them. “American Roads” tells a story a la John Mellencamp while “My Old Man Got A Little Smarter” has some AC/DC style vocal riffs and a melody to match.
While he’s very much a contemporary vocalist, Todd O’Neill also has recorded a good example of aclassic country barroom weeper. “Hank Williams, Jack Daniels and Memories of You” is one of them and it’s the kind of song that used to be the norm rather than the exception. There is a strong resemblance to Collin Raye on “Hank Williams” and “Man She Wanted You To Be,” a mid-tempo love ballad.
“Real Life” isn’t a perfect album but it features strong vocals, strong production (as good as anything coming from the major labels) and is presented in a thought out, classily designed package that rivals (and surpasses in many cases) that of what is released by the big labels. In a genre which is slowly opening up to small, independent labels, Todd O’Neill has the talent to stand tall. After all, while some other ‘singers’ might have a hit or two, tried-and-true talent is what usually rises to the top.