Rich O’Toole has had one of the most interesting careers in the history of this music scene. His debut record flung him atop the charts and ahead of people that had been chasing the dream longer. It wasn’t unique, but it was catchy. Personal battles, social media meltdowns, public humiliation and declining song quality caused him to, at times, become a punchline to many. Yet, despite it all, O’Toole has never stopped grinding…or being himself.
O’Toole recently released his latest collection of songs, American Kid. The songs are grander and bigger in scope than O’Toole’s voice can quite reach to, but it’s still a pleasant listen. This is Springsteen lite funneled through the lens of Mellencamp B-sides. The Boss is even namechecked with one of the songs “Springsteen Gold”. With that preface and background…allow me to say these songs aren’t bad. I know some of you will be shocked to read that. There are definitely bands in this scene and beyond putting out way worse and receiving accolades and crowds. These songs have common ground with the latest work from Ryan Adams…as blasphemous as that will also sound to some.
“Casino Lights” is a new twist on the gambling town trope and has a strong melodic sense that is almost swallowed up in the overproduction that features strings…but retains a diggable quality throughout. “Heartbreak is Currency” is a clever song idea delivered in a straightforward manner. A cover of Phil Pritchett’s mysterious Elvis ode “God Save The King” is a smart choice to place in the middle of the running order. It’s always been a good song and O’Toole lends it some fresh emotion. The hook and vibe on the aforementioned Springsteen song is strong and worth checking out if you don’t listen to anything else on this album.
O’Toole isn’t reinventing the wheel or headed to a sweep at the Americana Music Awards…but what he is doing is staying true to his roots over a decade into his career. Haters can hate, he’s going to do him…and somewhere in there is an admirable dedication to his vision and art. This is an album that’s easy on the ears and is one of the stronger efforts from OKOM three months into a stout 2017. O’Toole will never win over some folks, but he’s not going to stop trying and his latest effort is proof that sometimes dogged hard-headedness and a blinding ability to see anything but one’s own truth is universal.