When talking up Lil Rhody's indie-folk-Americana-blues explosion, be sure to toss the Skinny Millionaires in that conversation, as Newport native Mike O'Donnell (currently rolling as a solo unit) is one of the best in the business, which is further evidenced on the Skinny's latest, an EP titled Easy Tiger, which follows the outstanding 2010 full-length debut, Sleeping Dogs Lie (one of the more slept-on local albums of the last five years, in my opinion). Similar to RI contemporaries Deer Tick and Joe Fletcher's Wrong Reasons, the Skinny Millionaires shine brightest when conductor O'Donnell pins the accelerator, his rootsy fare seemingly veering off the rails. He'll hit the mainland this Saturday as part of a stacked bill celebrating WBOB's fifth anniversary (voted Best Blog by our readers in the recent Best of RI poll) along with a number of 2012 Best Music Poll noms, including VulGarrity and the Can't Nots.
SPONTANEOUS AND PRECISE O’Donnell.
O'Donnell's Millionaires caught my ear early on — back in 2010, we nominated the demo version of "Rare Bird" for Song of the Year, and they won Best Band honors in '10 and '11 in Newport's Mercury magazine. Sleeping Dogs Lie included guest help from John McCauley (who provides vox on three tracks) as well as Kevin Cole from NYC punk band the Turbo A.C.s. O'Donnell started out as a member of No Means Yes in the early '00s before heading west to Seattle "just to see what's out there."
"When I moved away someone told me, 'You'll be back. Everyone comes back,' and I thought, 'No way,' " O'Donnell recalled. "But I learned that if you're unhappy, you'll be unhappy anywhere. It's not the town's fault, it's who you decide to be and, just as important, it's who you decide not to be.
"I am so glad I moved back, and I've come full circle, he continued. "I have total Rhode Island pride and wear it on my sleeve and love it and promote it."
O'Donnell recorded both Sleeping Dogs Lie and the Easy Tiger EP with Scott Rancourt at his Summing Point Studios in Newport; it's the first release on Giant Robot Records, a new, all-inclusive imprint owned by Rancourt and video guru Rocco Michaluk.
"We've worked together for many years now and it gets better every time," Rancourt said via email earlier this week. "Mike is a very unique and underrated songwriter, so it's always exciting to see what he'll come up with in the studio, from a slow acoustic number to a full-on rock monster, each done with just the right amount of spontaneity and precision."
The midtempo opener "Drifting to California" coasts right into the thumping title track (with a riff recalling Queens of the Stone Age's "Burn the Witch"), with O'Donnell channeling Alice Cooper over Bob Dylan this time around. Expert violinist Meghan O'Connor returns and complements O'Donnell's harmonica on "The Mess You Made." And it doesn't get any better than the reworked "upbeat punk version" of "Keep Dying" closing out the five-song EP. There's no McCauley this time around, but the "clippity-clop country noir" backbeat of the previous version (from Sleeping Dogs Lie) gets the full-blown barroom rock treatment.
I asked O'Donnell what's up next for the one-man Millionaire this summer (skilled local bassists take note).
"I'd like to just have a solid lineup," O'Donnell stated. "We found a local drummer who kills it and I'm starting to work with a pedal steel guy, but any bass players out there that can tour, drop me a line because I have a ton of new songs ready to be worked out."
Pick up Easy Tiger right now at cdbaby.com or iTunes.
SKINNY MILLIONAIRES + THE CAN'T NOTS + VULGARRITY + KRIS HANSEN & JON TIERNEY + more | Saturday, July 7 @ 8 pm | PVD Social Club, 71 Richmond Street, Providence | FREE