Gonna Die Tryin’: “Clearly one of the best releases of 2015”

Anoth­er stel­lar review of our new CD, Gonna Die Tryin’, appears in the lat­est issue of Big City Blues Mag­a­zine. Here’s the com­plete review:

2015 was a year that saw a num­ber of impres­sive har­mon­i­ca-led record­ings. For this writer’s mon­ey, Chris O’Leary stood at the head of the class. With a fat tome that some­times reminds of William Clarke, O’Leary is an excep­tion­al­ly impres­sive song­writer and vocal­ist, as well. He’s as steeped in real life as he is in poet­ic paint­ing. On the open­er, Can’t Help Your­self (“If you want to do it/ ahead and just say screw it.”) Chris Vitarello’s gui­tar is flu­id and sting­ing. O’Leary blows crys­tal clear harp. 19cents a day is a glimpse into the real­i­ty of war (“A pat on the back/HR will show you the door/when they fin­ish screwin’ dad they’ll send junior off to war/3 years in the guard he’s on tour num­ber 2 when it’s some­one else’s son it’s an easy thing to do/See we appre­ci­ate your ser­vice sir, but sir you’ve got to go … I’m sure they can help you down at the VA/where they fly Old Glo­ry proudly/for 19 cents a day”). Bruce Katz burns up the B3 on this. Hook Line and Sinker has a horn vamp (Andy Stahl, tenor sax and Chris DiFrancesco, bari­tone sax) that reminds of the Otis Redding/Carla Thomas tune Tramp. The gui­tar work is straight out of Mus­cle Shoals. O’Leary’s vocals are as strong as most any­one out there. Part Kim Wil­son, part Tad Robin­son. The title cut (“There’s gonna be some killin’ … /it’s a razor thin line between right­eous­ness and dyin’/ make your mind up quick or you’re gonna die tryin’/things ain’t men­tioned in polite conversation/one nation under god ain’t a lit­er­al trans­la­tion…”) is bril­liant.

Let­ters From Home is a slow blues writ­ten from a marine’s per­spec­tive. (“I’m ter­ri­fied and lonesome/about a thou­sand miles away from home/desert wind chills me to the bone/Mail call’s about the only thing keeps a man sane/in this god for­sak­en com­bat zone….I need your let­ters from home.” Again, Vitarello’s gui­tar work is impres­sive. The Dev­il Drove to Town in a V8 Ford is a work­out for every­one on board. O’Leary’s writ­ing, here as else­where on the disc, is as impres­sive as the best of Spring­steen or any oth­er acknowl­edged mas­ter. Emo­tive, cin­e­mat­ic. He sings, “Jesus said you got noth­ing for me/So be gone and tempt me no more/The Dev­il jumped into his coupe/and start­ed up that V8 Ford.” The Machine show­cas­es his excel­lent harp work while bemoan­ing the drudgery of get­ting by. Walk­ing Con­tra­dic­tion (“throw me to the wolves and just let it all go.”) is hard core Chica­go. Har­vest Time, with its piano, drum, bass, and horns is the sto­ry of a man steal­ing elec­tric­i­ty from his neigh­bors (“I got a two year plan to get me off the grid.”) and doing “some ille­gal agri­cul­ture when the sun goes down.” The addi­tion of back­ing vocal­ist Lib­by Cabel­lo gives it a cross between church and fes­ti­val. One More Sat­ur­day Night speaks to the fall­out from tour­ing (“I gave you all I had and you still walked away … the bad was pret­ty awful but the good was pret­ty great”) and spot­lights O’Leary’s pow­er­ful harp work. Every­thing works. Strong vocals, a com­mand of the lan­guage and mus­cu­lar harp work. Clear­ly one of the best releas­es of 2015. —Mark E. Gal­lo

1 Comment

  1. Just want­ed to thank the band for com­ing to Des Moines Iowa for the Win­ter Blues Fest. The band con­tin­ues to be great, next time some­one yells out “I want to hear Tak­ing on Water”, please play it. I would love to hear the song live. Again thanks for a great per­for­mance.
    Your fan from North West Iowa
    Jean

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