Produced by John Agnello, a man with far too many subtly awesome alt-music credits (Burning Airlines, Chavez) attached to his name, O'Connor's fourth disc offers even the most cynical listener a brand new set of ears. Here With Me rocks out with generous abandon on tracks like "Daylight Out," with its wide-open and very sunny guitar chords, and "Highway Miles," another six-string layer cake that offers a dark meditation on love as an arduous road trip ("I'm always late to the scene of the accident").
Why so good? Maybe it's the fact she recorded the album in less than two weeks. Maybe it's because members of Ben Folds Five and the Hold Steady pitched in. Or maybe it's simply that O'Connor continues to define herself as a serious, heart-on-sleeve songwriter with more to say about life, love and loss than most of the artists (namely Liz Phair) to whom she was originally compared.
In any case, songs like "Xmas Party" seethe with the poisonous loneliness that only a shattered heart can ooze: "I don't need your words to tell me / 'Cause I've got a dictionary." For my money, nothing beats a catchy, 2 1/2-minute, slice-of-life pop tune.
Here With Me makes me want to grab O'Connor's previous albums.