Rich O’Toole showed great promise on his first studio albums. It was a classic case of a young, talented independent artist taking the first steps on a lifelong journey; figuring out where he’s going and how to get there and not having really been anywhere yet. Jaded, is where the country singer grows up. He’s mature, self-assured and fearless and it shows in his latest album. It is a confident, intelligent, brazen statement mixing salt of the earth storytelling, country sensibilities and stellar production values. Kudos to Benchmark Studios and team, who have provided a sonically, lush country landscape to showcase the raw energy and organic talent that is Rich O’Toole.
Unlike most of today’s most country royals, O’Toole’s power is rooted in his Tim McGraw-style chops as a singer and his George Strait ability as a simple chronicler of life, including all the ugly bumps along the way, breakups and breakdowns, lift ups and lift outs. And while he’s far from the only country-pop prince in training, he is proving himself to be a major. Very few have O’Toole’s sensitive touch, laid back grit and understated growl. Whether O’Toole wrote this album in a mountain cabin, a ranch on the plains, a tavern covered in chicken wire with sawdust on the floor, or a modern recording studio, the opening title track, Jaded, explodes forward with the pure heart, unadulterated chord progression and a voice that cracks and cries, making this album immediately identifiable as a country gem, sure to be loved by fans of ‘old school’ and ‘neo-country’ leanings.
When O’Toole reaches for an old school style, in the vein of Merle Haggard—(Mamma Tried), Johnny Cash, (Sunday Morning Coming Down or The Statler Bros., (Bed of Roses), he reaches them. I Thank God, is a straight forward country song that pays homage to his mother—(which is a consistent theme in the country genre, not as consistent elsewhere in music); but this story is told in a smooth ‘in between clean pressed sheets’ production, sort of way, that only adds to the sentiment, not detracts. O’Toole shows he is now as skilled with quiet ballads as he is with foot stomping honky-tonk. Take My Heart,is a funtastic tune; a rollicking anthem to the love seekers, that is hook-heavy and catchy as hell; (think Alan Jackson-I Don’t Even Know Your Name or Toby Keith, Too Drunk to Karaoke). Lyrics like, “my heart is yours for the takin, just like a piece of bacon”, in clumsier hands, would have turned to pure corn, but O’Toole doesn’t waste a line, making for a swinging tune filled with carefree abandon and a party like atmosphere.
O’Toole is at his best on standout tracks like, Too Good to Call, in which he wraps his supple country croon around lyrics like, ‘were you really too good to call/did you really give a fuck at all/sittin there making me feel all alone/). It is a blazing kiss off to the past lover, without a hint of regret. In moments like these, O’Toole is relatable across all genres, all styles to all people, and still sounds country, full of good taste and charm; which is perhaps his true talent and greatest weapon.
Rich O’Toole’s music is as timely as a Twitter feed and he has his GPS pointing forward.