When the Coronavirus lockdowns of 2020 hit, it derailed the plans of a lot of musicians. The best, however, found ways to adapt – like Oliver Sean did. He transitioned to doing online gigs live, streaming to fans, taking requests and generally doing his best to put on good shows, even as a one-man band.
He dubbed these his garage sessions and by all accounts, they were a huge success. So huge that he decided to recapture the spirit and energy of those gigs in this, the first of his official ‘Garage Session’ albums. While recorded in a professional studio, with his regular band, Garage Session Vol 1 is a mix of covers and older original material – just like the online sessions.
The result is a breezy, laid back folk/blues album which isn’t going to change the world, but nicely showcases Oliver Sean’s vibe and appeal to his fans.
Garage Session Vol 1 kicks off with ‘So Good’ a hit from his third album. It’s an upbeat number, brimming with positivity, making it an energetic lead-off to the album. The minimal lyrics give him plenty of room to show off his vocal chops, mixed with tongue-in-cheek spoken sections.
From there, he launches into ‘I Like It’, one of his earliest hits from his debut. It’s a timeless blues-rock piece that could have been written any time from the 1970s to today, the sort of song to listen to while knocking back drinks on a beach. It’s fluffy in a good way, and livened up by a fun Jimmy Buffet-esque jam midway through.
After another old favorite, ‘Tonight’, Sean starts in on covers from a wide range of acts – which will probably be the draw for many fans. His version of The Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is a perfect fit for Sean and his band, stripping it down to sound even more like a roadhouse piece than the original. Although it does suffer a bit from the missing honky-tonk piano.
Other standouts covers include Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, which almost seems like a no-brainer, given David Gilmour’s similar fascination with American country and blues. In Sean’s hands it becomes an almost pure country piece.
Speaking of country, one of the more surprising inclusions is the Willie Nelson staple ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’. More of his personality shines through, and he’s clearly having a great time with the lyrics – as well as his attempt at an American country accent, which is adorably exaggerated. Midway through, the rest of the band comes in as backup, giving it a deliberately ragged ‘drinking song’ vibe that’s a lot of fun.
Of somewhat less note is his cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. Taking an 80s electro-funk classic and trying to bluesify it is an interesting idea, but the results are mixed and seem a bit forced.
The album ends on a high note, bookending the collection with another return to Sean’s roots with ‘Nicole’, another track from his I Like It album. At 33 minutes, Garage Sessions Vol 1 wisely doesn’t wear out its welcome, since much more might risk becoming too samey.
Overall, Oliver Sean’s many fans will undoubtedly enjoy Garage Sessions Vol 1, although newcomers to his sound may want to start with one of his dedicated studio albums. Still, it’s a fun experiment, and it’s always nice to see an artist paying tribute to their influences.