Kate O’Callaghan has a lot on her side. She has a strong singing voice and can pen a decent tune. Some are even quite good – pretty, you could say. Strings slip in and out in all the right places, harmonies are tight, and we have some cute slide guitar to remind us when a sentiment is particularly heart-breaking. This is easy listening of the same ilk as Norah Jones and Katie Melua. Regardless of taste, when it’s done well, as it is here occasionally, it can be quite effective.
Things kick off pleasantly enough with Painted Lady. With the gentle caressing of an acoustic guitar and haunting folk melodies it’s clear we’re in familiar territory. Things don’t deviate much with similarly soothing cuts such as My Dear and Left In Disbelief chugging along admirably in the same gear. O’Callaghan is comfortable in this format and she has enough talent to compensate for the lack of musical deviation.
‘The Still Beyond’ doesn’t contain any bad songs as such, but rather they meld into one line of startling consistency, which is a fine adjective when describing the railroads but a little sterile in relation to music. That said, O’Callaghan seems to acknowledge this midway through by shifting through the gears with Feel and The Jackal introducing some swing to proceedings. When the band kicks in it gives O’Callaghan’s songs another dimension, one that was absent previously. It’s a swagger that makes the nucleus of this record such a pleasant surprise.
The fact that this is a false dawn is the most disappointing aspect of ‘The Still Beyond’. The album locks back into neutral and freewheels it across the finish line consigning the earlier promise into a distant memory. The main problem is that ‘The Still Beyond’ falters as a cohesive work. When she lets loose she is engaging, but too often she strolls introspectively in vague imagery that incites a mass shrugging of the shoulders with indifference. O’Callaghan is an accomplished songwriter and no doubt comfortable in her craft; the danger of that comfort bleeding into complacency is the biggest failing here. Everything is just that little bit safe. When she steps out of her comfort zone, how impressive she can be becomes evident. It’s just too infrequent to hold interest for a full album. That doesn’t overshadow the promise on display here, but perhaps some editing and some slight risks could elevate O’Callaghan above the musical grey areas.