Some voices have such a unique sound and power that once you've heard them once you always instantly identify them. Maura O'Connell has just such a voice – a rich throaty contralto. But along with her special natural gift, O'Connell also brings a level of musical intelligence and taste that separates her form those singers whose primary virtue is merely a great set of pipes.
The songs on Don't I Know come from a myriad of sources. From old songwriting pro Tim O'Brien, Maura interprets "Time to Learn," while she also performs newcomer Mindy Smith's "Going Down in Flames." Songs from Jenny Orenstein, Lim Lauderdale, Kim Richey, Hillary Lindsey, Patty Griffin, Robin Lerner, Al Anderson, Steve Bruton, and Clare Burson also grace Don't I Know. Perhaps the most telling characteristic of all the songs on the CD is how they all sound like they were written specifically for Maura O'Connell, even though this was certainly not the case. Once Maura has "covered" a song it's difficult to imagine anyone else doing a more definitive version.
Her producer, resophonic guitar virtuoso Jerry Douglas, assembled a remarkable roster of musicians to accompany Maura on Don't I Know. Bryan Sutton on guitar joins Viktor Kruass on bass, Shannon Forest on drums, Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on lapsteel, Gabe Dixon on keyboards, and Jonathan Trebing on electric guitar. Background vocalists include Cheryl White, Harry Stinson, and Don Johnson. On the last song of the album Maura has the power trio of Edgar Meyer on bass, Russ Barenberg on guitar, and Jerry Douglas on dobro.
The sound on Don't I Know has the luscious musicality necessary to fully appreciate the sumptuous nature of Maura O'Connell's voice. While as rich as any big budget pop or country recording, engineers Jason Lehning and Bill VornDick achieve a level of acoustic naturalness that you seldom hear in pop. Even the most fully orchestrated songs never get too thick or muddy. This sonic restraint allows Maura's voice to deliver the songs with maximum emotional impact. Edgar Meyer's bowed bass lines on "Time To Learn" envelop you like a gigantic fluffy bathrobe.
Being a singer's singer may be the commercial kiss of death, but like the great Jennifer Warnes, Maura O'Connell has assembled a body of work that proves she is among a few elite vocalists who can make magic. If you appreciate truly first-class musicality then Don't I Know deserves a place in your music library.