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