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Chris O’Leary Band – Waiting For The Phone To Ring


13 tracks; 54.11 minutes

The legends of “the difficult second album” album are well documented but the Chris O’Leary Band has taken it in their stride. First album “Mr Used To Be” won many accolades and helped the band to win a Blues Blast Award for best new artist debut release (against some strong opposition) but the new album may be even stronger. Produced by Dave Gross, Chris wrote all the songs and the core band remains unchanged: Chris on vocals and harp, Chris Vitarello on guitar and vocals, Frank Ingrao on bass, Willa McCarthy on vocals, Sean McCarthy on drums, Chris de Francesco on tenor and Andy Stahl on baritone. Additional musicians include Jeremy Baum on keyboards, Dave Gross on guitar, drums and percussion, Michael Bram on drums and percussion, Scot Hornick on upright bass and Vinny Nobile on trombone.

Chris is a a strong harp player and a good singer whose voice adapts well to different styles. The band sets out its stall on opener “Give It” with its insistent drum beat, ringing guitars and harp well supported by the horns and backing vocals. “Without You” opens with a strong horn backing and a stop-start rhythm that presents Chris’ vocal very well. “Louisiana Woman” has a touch of the swamps in its tone and a despairing lyric about how down on his luck Chris is: “No mohair suit, spectator shoes; tattoos across my knuckles saying ‘born to lose’; I got a $5 dollar haircut, a dollar 50 comb, a half can of coffee, but I’m going home alone”. That Louisiana woman is not playing ball!

The pace drops for “Pictures Of You”, a ballad in New Orleans style with plenty of piano and low horn riffs. Chris does a great job on vocals here and Chris Vitarello delivers an excellent solo spot on guitar. “Hole In My Head” is a well-written song with amusing lyrics - “First time you left me, shame on you; second time you left me, shame on me too; third time I hear the door slam I know what to do, get myself a good girl, forget about you…I need you like a hole in my head” - and an excellent tenor solo. The title track has a funky NO beat and a spoken vocal which affords the opportunity for Chris to sound a little like Tom Waits.

“Jealous Hearted Man” sounds like a lost Muddy Waters song with a persistent harp riff and another strong vocal performance. “Pockets Are Full” again captures that NO feel, particularly the horns on a song that exemplifies the old saying that money can’t buy love: “It’s been a year today since you been gone. All the money I made ain’t gonna bring you home. My prospects aren’t good ‘cos our love has ended. Our pockets are full but our hearts are empty.” There then follows a run of single word titles: I particularly liked “Trouble”, an uptempo stomper with everything going on: hot horns, rock and roll guitar, strong vocals and harmonies and an exciting harp solo to top it off. “Questions” returns to NO with a gentle paced rocker: piano led with great horn accompaniment and second line drums, but special mention to Chris Vitarello’s shimmering slide guitar. “History” is the longest cut on the album and has a very nice, funky horn riff at its core, including a great trombone solo. The ‘history’ in question follows several famous lovers of the past, starting with Adam and Eve and concluding that Chris and his current lover will themselves make history! Chris’ vocal here is excellent, reminding me of Roomful Of Blues’ former singer Mac Odom.

“377-9189” is one of those late night numbers, all quiet horn riffs and tinkling piano. Chris stretches out on an extended harp solo taken at slow and melodic pace. Final track “The Prince” brings the pace back up with a swinging number which lyrically reprises the old fairy tale about kissing a frog to return him to his proper state as a prince.

When I reviewed “Mr Used To Be” in 2010 I said that Chris O’Leary was a name to watch. This time round I can be sure that this CD will consolidate the rising reputation of this band on the current scene. Recommended.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.


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