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
“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”
Blues Biscuits’ Jim Kanavy gives our new live CD, Live at Blues Now!, high marks in his review of the album, noting that “this is rock & roll blues at its best.” Here’s the full review:
“Chris O’Leary is the former front man of Levon Helm’s Barnburners. The Chris O’Leary band was formed in 2007 around a tight group of road warriors. Chris’ years spent with the Barnburners, backing up an eclectic mix of musicians at Levon Helm’s New Orleans club, and touring the country afterward, turned him into a musical medium. He channels a multitude of blues & soul styles authoritatively. It’s hard to believe he grew up closer to Albany, New York than New Albany, Mississippi. The blues pours out of his fuzz-drenched, raspy harp and his band is right there with him at every twist and turn. After two successful and acclaimed studio albums, this red hot combo has unleashed a sizzling live album.
“Live At Blues Now! has tunes from both studio albums and a grooving, bouncing version of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Wish You Would.” Chris sings some of it through the harp mic and his vocals take on a Howlin’ Wolf snarl. I was really excited to have a live version of “Tchoupitoulas” (that’s “Chop-ih-too-liss” to you and me). If “Tchoupitoulas” doesn’t get you moving you may be dead. Have someone take your pulse immediately. Administer mouth to mouth as desired. It should have you singing and dancing like you’re down at Tipitina’s with the second-line hot on your heels. The whole album, from the opener “Give It” to the closer “History” has incredible drumming. The beats are almost tribal, churning and chopping, like waves of the sea surging and receding, thrusting the band forward, reeling rocking in rhythmic ecstasy.
“On “Trouble,” special guest guitarist Alex Schultz rides the rhythmic waves like a man who’s conquered the Pipeline. Chris O’Leary’s harp cuts through like a thrusting oar and keeps the band on course. The shimmering guitars of “Louisiana Woman” and lonesome harp conjure a hoodoo mist across the bayou and “Water’s Risin’” swings, rocks and reels. This is rock & roll blues at its best, combining gospel vocals, Chuck Berry rhythms, and dueling guitars into a spicy gumbo of American music which pretty much encapsulates the Chris O’Leary Band. This band is the real deal. Bring the band into your living room, car, or bayou back porch with Live At Blues Now!”
Blues Revue Magazine’s recent review of our second CD, Waiting for the Phone to Ring, praises Chris O. as a master storyteller, highlights the tight knit velvety saxes of Andy and Chris D., and proclaims the band as one of the most interesting and exciting blues bands on the current scene. Read the full review clipped from the magazine below.