Whitney Road’s third and latest studio album just dropped with an incredible list of guest performers, a beautiful message and arrangements that are tightly mixed while allowing the incredible performers to make space for each other. This album radiates with love and Doug O’Connor and Ann Whitney’s family project shines on Lean In.
The first track “Hold On” kicks off the record with an upbeat and very catch riff with Whitney’s vocals moving in and out of the melody with ease and beauty. One might be reminded of Susan Tedeschi or Bonnie Raitt. She sings “Gotta believe we can hold on a little longer, gotta believe we can be a little stronger, gotta believe we can find a way.” A very poignant lyric for the world right now.
Lean In, as mentioned has a plethora, of talent lending a hand. Bob Wallis plays keys on the record and has two amazing albums of his own, one with a song featured on NPR’s show “Car Talk.”
Ed Gorham is a blues and jazz guitar master with over 50 years of experience, he currently plays with Butternut Creek Revival and in a Fleetwood Mac cover band.
The joyous fiddle of Liz Simchik can be heard throughout the record. Simchik operates the State Bridge Collective and plays in a number of groups including Lipstick and Whiskey with Central New York star Jes Sheldon, Remsen Social Club, and Opus Black Trio.
Brendan O’Connor plays mandolin and drums on this album and often performs live with Ann and his father Doug. He is currently part of the CNY group Rabbit In The Rye and was previously the drummer of blues/rock band Son Bully.
Jay Darks rounds out the group with his expertise on guitar, famed for his tab work and Grateful Dead efficiency. Together these musicians have truly captured a special sound. A rollicking mix of the Grateful Dead’s country twang in ’73, gypsies playing around a bonfire on a moonlit night, and wonderfully layered harmonies, Lean In is breathtaking.
When asked about the recording process Doug O’Connor said:
“We started the project during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020 as we had a bunch of gigs canceled. The lockdown/ early days of the pandemic drove some of the writing (the tune ‘Hold On’). The tunes also reflect some of the political insanity we witnessed during the 2020/2021 shit show (Trump and co.). “All But Forgotten” and “Little More Love” were born out of that.
As the tunes evolved we started going back to our songwriting sketchbooks and put some new arrangements on “Black Creek Road,” “Running Away,” and “Lean In.” “Dear Me” is a tune Ann wrote for Sloane (for her to listen to when she is in middle school). Once we had a nice bunch of tunes coming together, that drove the songwriting energy (competition between Ann and me to get songs on the album). “Follow the Mule” is something I wrote to evoke memories of the kind of stuff I used to play in the band McMule. “One More Day” was inspired by my dad’s 90th birthday last September. As we are now in our 60s, you really start to think differently about time – how much you have and what you do with it. So really – in summary, the songs are very personal to Ann and me, and in the end, we are filled with hope for what could be.”
Truly a family record from start to finish.
Lean In trades leads, but whether Doug’s “Little More Love,” which brings a Crosby Stills and Nash vibe to the record, or “Follow the Mule” an ode to Doug’s old band with a rollicking instrumental track that flourishes like a Punch Brothers jam, it all comes back to the players’ harmonies and respect for each other and the message. Ann sings the hauntingly beautiful “All But Forgotten,” warning of the many ways people can be divided, but also the importance of looking for beauty in what the future could be.
Every track on Lean In works well together and fits perfectly into this wonderful puzzle. All the complex layers and instruments piece together into an incredible record. This writer is so glad he leaned into it and as it plays to the backbeat of an Upstate New York thunderstorm for the third time today, I can highly recommend checking it out. Lean In is the album the world needs right now.