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

Our lat­est album gar­ners this acco­lade and more from review­er Mar­ty Gun­ther, in the lat­est issue of Blues Blast Mag­a­zine. Here’s a reprint of the full review:

Vet­er­an New York singer/harmonica player/guitarist Chris O’Leary is a tal­ent­ed, down-to-earth blues­man who speaks from his heart, and that’s clear as a bell for Gonna Die Tryin’, his lat­est imprint on the Amer­i­can Show­place label.

A true Amer­i­can hero who spent sev­en years in the U.S. Marines, O’Leary’s approach deals dif­fer­ent­ly from many harp play­ers on the scene today. After his dis­charge, he spent six years as front man for Lev­on Helm’s band, The Barn­burn­ers, record­ed with Hubert Sum­lin and Bill Per­ry. He deliv­ers straight-ahead blues with a mod­ern feel, aid­ed by horns, which take his sound to anoth­er lev­el while giv­ing him space to deliv­er his ample vocal skills.

This is Chris’ fourth release since suc­cess­ful­ly mak­ing his debut as a solo record­ing artist in 2010 with Mr. Used To Be. That album earned the 2011 Blues Blast Music Award for best New Artist Debut Release. O’Leary’s most recent work, Live At Blues Now!, was a 2015 BBMA nom­i­nee for Live Album Of The Year. He’s backed here by his reg­u­lar align­ment of Chris Vitarel­lo (gui­tar), Andy Stahl and Chris DiFrancesco (tenor and bari­tone sax­es), Matt Ray­mond (bass) and Jay Devlin (drums). They’re aug­ment­ed by Bruce Katz on keys, Vin­nie Nobile on trom­bone and Willa Pan­vi­ni McCarthy and Lib­by Cabel­lo on back­ing vocals.

All of the mate­r­i­al here is orig­i­nal, and O’Leary writes about what he knows, some of it humor­ous, some reek­ing with images of the bat­tle­ground, as he paints a clear pic­ture of life in 21st Cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca. Dur­ing the Viet­nam era, it wasn’t unusu­al for a blues artist to record songs about the hor­rors of war. Today, how­ev­er, O’Leary is in the minor­i­ty as he describes cur­rent war­zones and their effect on valiant folks who serve.

A catchy riff from Vitarel­lo, who’s stel­lar through­out, intro­duces “Can’t Help Your­self,” the first cut, the sto­ry of Bay­onne Bob­by, a tat­tooed ne’er-do-well who’s vowed to set­tle down with a good woman and make his moth­er proud. Despite his efforts, how­ev­er, he sim­ply can’t get out of his own way. O’Leary sug­gests it’s time to stop try­ing to be some­one else, fin­ish­ing the num­ber with an elec­tri­fy­ing harp solo that stops just short of dis­tor­tion.

“19₵ A Day” fol­lows with a lyri­cal­ly rapid-fire take on one of the biggest com­plaints work­ers deal with today: com­pa­nies out­sourc­ing labor to places where folks will toil for the mea­ger wages of the song’s title. The mil­i­tary theme makes its first appear­ance with ref­er­ences about the gov­ern­ment turn­ing its back on dis­en­fran­chised vet­er­ans who find them­selves being shut­tled from one agency to anoth­er, unable to secure jobs, unless elec­tion time is near and politi­cians actu­al­ly do some­thing to help in order to sway votes.

“Hook, Line And Sinker,” a love song deliv­ered with a Mem­phis feel backed by the horn sec­tion, fol­lows before the theme dark­ens once more. “Gonna Die Try­ing” pro­vides a funky, hor­rif­ic view of bat­tle using Sam­son vs. the Philistines for imagery before it evolves into visions of men with guns who have Satan in their ears spurring them on for more blood­shed. He’s got “the rules of engage­ment and the worst of inten­tions,” O’Leary says, and “there’s a razor-thin line between right­eous­ness and dyin’.” The theme con­tin­ues with “Let­ters From Home,” a sev­en-minute slow blues opus that details the pow­er of receiv­ing mail and phones from loved ones when at the front line.

“The Dev­il Drove To Town In A V8 Ford” and “The Machine” are both clever, per­co­lat­ing blues. The first depicts the bat­tle between good and evil with rich visu­al metaphors, the sec­ond being trapped in the pit­falls of every­day work­ing life. O’Leary puts his harp skills on dis­play for the care­ful­ly con­trolled “Walk­ing Con­tra­dic­tion,” which describes a woman who nev­er ceas­es to amaze, before “Har­vest Time,” a love song with a funky South­ern feel and lush horn arrange­ments. The lop­ing “One More Sat­ur­day Night” fol­lows before “Tell It To Me Straight” brings the disc to a close.

From the descrip­tion of the songs above, you’d think that O’Leary’s basi­cal­ly a hard-edged Marine, but don’t be fooled. He’s real­ly a softy at heart. He ded­i­cat­ed the album to his new­born son Jack­son, and the pair are depict­ed in a tru­ly heart­warm­ing image in the pack­ag­ing.

Gonna Die Tryin’ is full of first-rate musi­cian­ship through­out, and O’Leary’s band is def­i­nite­ly a group on the rise. But it’s the mate­r­i­al that tru­ly shines. Avail­able from Ama­zon, iTunes or direct­ly from the label’s web­site. I’m def­i­nite­ly going to set this album aside for the end of the year and future award con­sid­er­a­tion.

The COB-MaggieStahlPhoto

A hap­py and healthy new year to all our fans, fam­i­ly, and friends! We hope that you’ll come out to see us play at a venue near you in 2016. We’ve already got sev­er­al tours lined up in the US and we’ll be back in Basel, Switzer­land in June. Check out our updat­ed cal­en­dar, we’ll be adding more shows as they get booked. We’ve got lots of great music and new tunes to play for you. Thank you for your sup­port!

cover9_50medium“‘Play the song.’

“A rather sim­ple and innocu­ous lit­tle com­ment, isn’t it?

“Could be some­thing as inno­cent as a request direct­ed at a disc jock­ey or a plea from an impa­tient club own­er to a belea­guered band.

“But no, this time those three words are a nugget of advice from one of the most leg­endary and well-respect­ed musi­cians in the annals of mod­ern music – Mr. Lev­on Helm.

““That’s one of the great­est pieces of advice he gave me. Play the song, don’t use the song for what­ev­er it is you’re try­ing to do … like get­ting up there and show­ing off or show­ing every­body what you know. I remem­ber him telling a gui­tar play­er, ‘There’s a lot of notes, did you real­ly have to play all of them?’” said singer, song-writer, harpist and band­leader Chris O’Leary. “He would say, ‘Play the song. Go up there and if you’re solo­ing, if you’re singing or if you’re play­ing rhythm, for­ward the song. What­ev­er the song may be, sup­port it. That’s a les­son that has car­ried me – among a zil­lion oth­ers that he taught me.””

Read the rest of the inter­view by Ter­ry Mullins in the Decem­ber 10, 2015 issue of Blues Blast Mag­a­zine

Gonna Die Tryin'
Gonna Die Tryin’

“Chris O’Leary has a vocal style that could make a believ­er out of a devout athe­ist and a har­mon­i­ca style that will burn a hole straight through to the deep­est part of your heart.  There’s just some­thing in his deliv­ery that has the lis­ten­er hang­ing on every note and every word.  Sev­en years as a Marine and six years as a mem­ber of Lev­on Helm’s Barn­burn­ers are enough to con­vince the hard­ened skep­tic that this cat has paid his dues.  If that’s not enough, one lis­ten to this disc will dri­ve the point home.  A band as sol­id as the Rock of Gibral­tar back­ing his for­mi­da­ble skills is enough to get the point across that Chris O’Leary is 100% the real deal.  Back­ing him on this album are Chris Vitarel­lo on gui­tar, Andy Stahl and Chris Difrancesco on sax­o­phones, Matt Ray­mond on bass and Jay Devlin on drums.  Add the piano & organ work of Bruce Katz, Vin­nie Nobile on trom­bone, and Willa Pan­vi­ni McCarthy & Lib­by Cabel­lo on back­ground vocals…then add John Mooney as a spe­cial guest on gui­tar, and this tasty treat has the cher­ry on top.  The fact that O’Leary wrote all the music and lyrics for the album makes him all the more impres­sive.  As impres­sive a word­smith as he is a har­mon­i­ca play­er and vocal­ist, this cat is a threat on so many fronts that it’s not fun­ny.  This is one of the most impres­sive, sol­id blues albums I have heard in quite some time.  There are no gim­micks, no high-tech pyrotech­nics and absolute­ly no B.S. to be found, just a band pour­ing heart and soul into a per­for­mance.  This one is pow­er­ful and pas­sion­ate, strong as an old loco­mo­tive with a full head of steam and no desire to slow down.  This one gets my high­est rec­om­men­da­tion.  It belongs in the library of every blues lover…without ques­tion.  — Bill Wil­son”

http://chickenwilson2.blogspot.com/p/sept.html

You can pre­order the CD now at Amazon.com –it will be released on Sep­tem­ber 18th.