Listen: Esther O’Connor

With her lion’s mane of theatrically red hair and strikingly pretty, elfin features, Esther O’Connor looks decidedly more otherworldly than your average pop-folk-rock princess. It only takes one song to be a star and in “Lost Innocence” she has a sure-fire hit. Well, sure-fire, given a realistic marketing budget. You’ve got to have heard of her before you can buy it, or something like that. And therein lies a familiar tale we will come on to shortly.

Meanwhile the video to “Lost innocence” may look like an advert for Visit Scotland but if you came across the comely Ms O’Connor rolling around in the surf in her ragged fairy dress while you were tramping the nearby heather, you might just put up with the midges and bad weather. It also helps that “Lost innocence” is a totally irresistible tune with a great catchy hook. Perfectly crafted pop with folksy mandolin that reminds you that Rod Stewart is also a Scot.

Ethereal, ethnic and all gossamer and lace, O’Connor recalls Stevie Nicks in her heyday. The comparison doesn’t end there as “Lost Innocence” is pure Fleetwood Mac of the Rumours vintage, acoustically driven and highlighted with sweet double-tracked harmonies. There are shades of Nicks in her vocal which has a transatlantic note that interestingly is a trait shared with many a Scottish singer. It also has more than a hint of husky and Gaelic about it.

Winding back a bit, where has this fair damsel come from? For starters, Esther O’Connor is well connected as her father, Graeme Duffin, played with Wet Wet Wet, so she can be excused for ‘feeling it in her fingers’ from an early age. She had a Christian upbringing, which colours her music and underscores the sense of wonder in many of her songs. For that, read themes of yearning and awakening, journeying and discovery as well. She started songwriting aged 14 and began showcasing for major labels when still at school. The story then takes an all-too recognizable path when having signed for EMI at 18 and started to gig with her own band, Ashton Lane, named after a street in Glasgow, commercial success did not follow. Despite the publishing and record deal, nothing was released, other than O’Connor from both contracts.

She recorded her debut album, The Place Where We Are, independently in 2003, straight after coming out of the deals and looked on it as a welcome dose of therapy. For the next couple of years, O’Connor did little in the way of gigging but after marrying, began to get the flavour for live performance again, working the acoustic circuit in Scotland with her husband, Tim, and brother, Jamie.

In 2007, she started to work on a follow up own label album, Right Here, which was a neat amalgam of songs recorded in her EMI days and brand new stuff. The album is littered with solid, melodic songs and shows O’Connor to be comfortable with a range of styles and referencing more of a 70’s vibe with hints of Bonny Rait, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac in there. It’s a really strong collection with arguably the stand-outs being the two penned by O’Connor on her own; the title track which is so good I even forgive the flute solo in it and the uplifting “Hope” which has echoes of The Corrs in the arrangement and tells of an encounter with a young Zambian girl, poor in material wealth but so rich in spirit.

The release of “Lost Innocence” as a single signifies that a third album isn’t too far away. By then hopefully more people will have picked up on her. Does the music world really need another flame haired temptress? If it’s Esther O’Connor, the answer is yes.

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