We’re excited to be playing this new venue for the first time, and we’ll be singing tunes from our upcoming CD and other new songs, plus plenty of your old favorites. This will be our only Hudson Valley appearance in July, as we’ll just be back from our European Tour and getting ready to head out on our western US tour at the end of the month. Come on out and join us! This is a small venue and may sell out, so get your tickets now!
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.
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!
“‘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.””