By Michael Marsh
You smooth jazz fans out there may not be familiar with Brian O’Neal yet, but with his recent release of “Daisy”, you soon should be. If you hail from the Detroit area, you may already be acquainted with him, as that’s his home base. Or, if you’ve ever witnessed KEM perform live, or took in a Marion Meadows performance during his most recent tour, you may know who he is, as O’Neal has performed extensively with both artists, as well as many others. In fact, Brian O’Neal is KEM’s musical director, in addition to being his keyboardist. If you hang out on BlackPlanet.com, you possibly are acquainted with him, as he seems to be listed on everybody’s BP page as one of their favorite artists. I learned about Brian O’Neal about a year ago from a good friend, MizzJK, who also happens to be Brian O’Neal’s #1 fan. She turned me on to O’Neal’s first CD, “Mood Swings”, originally released in 2002, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. “Mood Swings” was an excellent vehicle for Brian O’Neal to feature his musical skills as an “up front man”, rather than a background musician.
As much as I liked “Mood Swings”, I find “Daisy” to be head and shoulders above what O’Neal gave to us in 2002. He has obviously used the last five years very well, to hone his song-writing and keyboard skills. “Daisy” grabs your attention immediately with the lead off track, a mellow, trance-inducing number entitled “Mesmerized”. I absolutely love this song. O’Neal is joined by William Engelman on guitar on this one. Also, although the liner notes don’t give credit to the musician, there is someone who is playing the cello in the background, and it is that cello in combination with Brian O’Neal’s keyboard that helps this song achieve a level of absolute perfection, in my opinion. Next on the CD appears an upbeat jam, named “Inner G”, which again features William Engelman on guitar. "Inner G" also features O’Neal playing his synthesized voice through the keyboard, which allows him to make his voice sound like a large group of voices, singing in harmony. This is a technique that I first heard used a couple of years ago by another Detroit smooth jazz artist, Gerard Gibbs. O’Neal’s use of the technique is just as entertaining as Gibbs’, and it really makes “Inner G” the thoroughly enjoyable listen that it is. Appearing at track three is “On The Path”, a laid back, gentle song, with a funky beat. This one is great for those times when you are just in a mood to “chill”. O’Neal then takes us way back home to our soulful roots on track four, with a mellow, bluesy number entitled “No Words Necessary”. I’m not quite sure exactly why, but whenever I listen to “No Words Necessary”, it makes me think of The Jazz Crusaders back in the 70’s. Up next appears “Let Me Do It Again”, another number that manages to be mellow and funky at the same time. The "funk" on this one is ably provided by Darrel “Peanut” Smith on bass guitar. The title cut, “Daisy”, appears at track six. With its driving disco beat and vocals provided by Shiron Denise and Unita Chambers, there’s no doubt that "Daisy" is intended for the dance floor, and I’m sure that it will get heavy play among the hustle crowd. The title cut, as well as the entire CD project, is dedicated to Brian O’Neal’s grandmother, Daisy O’Neal, who was obviously a very influential force in his life. O’Neal further honors his grandmother with a heartfelt spoken word interlude named “Because”, appearing at track 13. O’Neal follows “Daisy” up with another upbeat jam named “Dancer”, appearing at track seven, and then mellows things out again at track eight with “Dalilah Days”. “Dalilah Days” is one of several songs from this CD on which every sound you hear in the song is played by Brian O’Neal. Following "Dalilah Days", O’Neal dives right into an old school, big band sound at track nine, with “Cool Beans”. The tenor sax solo on this one is provided by another well known Detroit musician, the one and only Dave McMurray, and his sax still sounds just as sweet as ever. O’Neal finishes his CD project off with four songs, and the previously mentioned spoken word interlude, on which O’Neal plays all of the instruments that you hear. Among this final group of songs is my personal favorite from the CD, the delightfully sweet, “Autobahn”. “Autobahn” immediately captures you from the very first note, and holds your attention right until the very last note trails off into silence. I absolutely love this song, and I guarantee you will too. The last track on the CD is a song entitled “Smell of Bean”, which provides my only disappointment with this project. My disappointment stems from the fact that “Smell of Bean” only lasts one minute and forty-six seconds. As a long time Funkateer from the heyday of P-Funk, I was really getting into “Smell of Bean” when it abruptly stops. Of course, this is only a tongue in cheek criticism, because the song is great. However, I really do wish it had been much longer, so that O’Neal could have really stretched out with some jamming improvisations on his keyboard solos. It is my sense that Brian O’Neal can really, really throw down with The P-Funk, if he chooses to. Perhaps on his next CD project, O’Neal will include a cut entitled “The Smell of Bean – Part Two”, and stretch it out for nine or ten minutes, just to keep us Funkateers happy.
“Daisy” is a wonderful CD and you should definitely buy it. All fourteen tracks on the CD are entertaining and enjoyable. The quality of the sound and the production of this CD are definitely first rate. This is a “can’t miss” addition to your music collection and I give it five stars out of a possible five. It may not be in your local record store for awhile though, because this is a self-produced and self-recorded CD, done without any major record label backing. Brian O’Neal, and his BCO Media team, are personally handling the distribution of this CD, so it is going to take awhile to get it distributed around the country. I purchased my copy at www.cdbaby.com. If you don’t want to use cdbaby.com, you can also find out how to purchase “Daisy” by going to Brian O’Neal’s My Space page at www.myspace.com/brianoneal.
Michael Marsh is the jazz reviewer for TNCP. To make contact, you may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for review.