Hailing from Portland, R&B soul singer/songwriter Michael Odokara-Okigbo (now going by Michael O) has accomplished one of the more difficult moves a local musician can achieve: He broke out of the comfortable arms of loyal, adoring fans’ attention and soared to new heights.

As a contestant on NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” Michael O led his college singing group, the Dartmouth Aires, to a second-place win in 2011. Then he rolled into the next logical step for any talented and striving musician: He wrote and recorded his first EP, “In the Beginning.”

An impressive feat at this early juncture, each song is written, arranged and co-produced by Michael O. When I listened to this six-song CD as a whole the first time, I thought the quality of his songwriting and production work was just as good as anything out there that is mainstream and backed by big money.

The first track, “Invincible,” immediately drew me in with its soulful, contagious and mesmerizing R&B beats and insightful lyrics: “They think they know me but I’m not what I once was/ I can see through your painted smile/ Build me up just to tear me down.” At only two minutes, the song is very short — a smart strategy, as it leaves the listener wanting more.

The next two songs, “Take You Home” and “Ooh Baby,” are in the typical vein of what so many R&B crooners sing about stylistically, dripping with sexual references and a yearning in the voice. But Mr. O has his own style, and I never found his voice grinding or too whiny.

“Start With Tonight” pushes the beat back up, and could potentially be a certified dance song with its straight beat and catchy hooks woven within the tune.

In “Breakdown,” Michael O changes it up again, opening with a lovely piano solo and a lonely falsetto voice. More free-form and stripped down than his previous tracks, he shines here with his soul influences. The lyrics are encouraging and brave, an influence he seems to want to share with his listeners.

“Champion Love” was apparently written for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and is a true testament to Michael O’s influential spirit. It’s upbeat and contemporary, yet still encompasses the vintage R&B genre feel in all of his songs.

Check out Michael O’s website, michaelomusic.com, where you can find all the information about this up-and-coming star from our neck of the woods. 

Kristin DiCara-McClellan is a Portland freelance writer.


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