‘Life After Life’ – Mark and Maggie O’Connor – New Album Review
UPDATED: May 13, 2024
UPDATED: May 13, 2024
Mark and Maggie O'Connor - Life After Life

It always strikes me as silly when people argue until they’re blue in the face about whether something is Americana or Bluegrass. Mark and Maggie O’Connor released their new album, Life After Life, on April 26. Whether you call it Americana, Bluegrass, or something else entirely, I simply call it damn fine musicianship. Mark and Maggie have garnered numerous awards for their multi-instrumentalist talents, and this shines brightly on their new album.

Mark’s songwriting ability and production skills, coupled with Maggie’s vocal talents, create a perfect blend of depth and flair. Life After Life takes a deep dive into a very personal exploration. The album, inspired by the pandemic and Covid-19 lockdowns, is intended to help us reconnect and fall in love with life again. It reminds us to be thankful, all the while being highlighted by the vibrant sounds and nimble fingers of seasoned bluegrass players.

Highlights

The musicianship behind this album is truly special—precise, nuanced, and intricately deliberate. We Just Happened to Fly showcases the O’Connors’ ability to weave thematic storytelling and blazing instrumentals seamlessly. The track begins with a dueling violin and fast-paced flatpicked guitar. The intro is abruptly joined by Maggie’s vocal, creating a tension that enhances her storytelling. Mark, along with the drumbeat, joins in the call-and-response chorus, harmonizing, “We just happened to fly.” Tastefully complemented by effortless guitar and violin solos, the song uses cinematic metaphors to describe taking a leap of faith together and the journey that has led them to where they are now.

The title track, Life after Life, leans more into a traditional bluegrass groove, with an infectious beat heavily driven by a stand-up bass and snare drum. Mark plays multiple instruments throughout the tune, yet still manages to lay down all those sweet guitar runs that we’ve come to love. Co-written by Joe Henry, the lyrics are profoundly deep, metaphor-laden, and at times cryptic, very Dylan-esque. Overall, as far as my pea-bodied brain can surmise, the song could simply describe the world as we know it today, or possibly characterize life’s chaotic nature and the beauty within it as its cycle continues unbroken. Maggie O’Connor continues to let her vocals do the talking, no pun intended, as Life After Life proves itself as an instant classic.

More Standout Tracks

Outside of the original songs on Life After Life, the album includes three fantastic covers. Often, covers are thrown onto an album as an afterthought or as filler, but that couldn’t be further from the truth here. The O’Connors have left their calloused fingerprints all over these tracks, bringing their own artistic interpretation and vocal style to the table. Wildflowers becomes an instant mandolin-driven bluegrass standard as Maggie O’Connor’s angelic vocals make Dolly Parton proud.

Both Stevie Wonder’s Love’s in Need of Love Today and Jason Isbell’s Something to Love get a similar makeover with traditional bluegrass flair. I will never be one of those guys who claims something is better than the original, BUT, when it comes to something like this, I can objectively understand the argument. Both songs fall right within the duo’s sound and style, with Mark’s arrangements and all the string instruments between the pair, they transform these songs into something uniquely special.

Verbovaya Doschechka (A Ukrainian Folk Song) is truly something mythical. It’s hard to describe with words. Composed by Mark and Maggie on duo violins, rather than trying to ask why or dissect it, I think the origin speaks for itself. The couple learned the traditional melody line while performing with string players from the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra in an online violin choir recorded in March 2022. The orchestra members were in basements-turned-bunkers taking shelter from Russian missiles. Enough said… right? The ballad is haunting, somber, and even eerie at times. A fitting and powerful choice to end the album, especially in the world’s current climate.

Tracklist

(Writers in parenthesis)

  • Spice of Life (Jim Parker and Mark O’Connor)
  • One Sunray at a Time (Mark O’Connor)
  • Something to Love (Jason Isbell)
  • We Just Happened to Fly (Joe Henry and Mark O’Connor)
  • Life After Life (Joe Henry and Mark O’Connor)
  • Wildflowers (Dolly Parton)
  • All We Will Be (Joe Henry and Mark O’Connor)
  • Ride Towards Home (Maggie O’Connor and Mark O’Connor)
  • Love’s in Need of Love Today (Stevie Wonder)
  • Verbovaya Doschechka (P.D. Arr. Mark O’Connor)

Final Thoughts

Mark and Maggie O’Connor showcase a newfound love for life in Life After Life.

Life After Life shines brightly as a feel-good exploration and commentary on life and the world as we know it. Sometimes happy and energetic, sometimes sad and somber, Mark O’Connor once more proves himself not just as a musician but more so as a writer and producer.

Every track on Life After Life illuminates and offers something memorable. Although the overarching theme of the album “learning to love life again” resonates, it more so succeeds at showcasing the bond and the sheer unadulterated talent, musicianship, and vocals of the O’Connors. Mark shines as always, burning up the strings on anything he touches, while Maggie O’Connor’s vocals bring her into the spotlight as a prominent figure in the industry. Life After Life is an unexpected gem that’ll flatpick your heartstrings.

 

Album Release: April 26, 2024

Favorite Tracks: Life After Life, We Just Happened To Fly

RootsnRevelry Grade:                           

B-

For Tour and Merch: Follow Mark and Maggie O’Connor

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