Blues In Britain Issue 108

 John O’Leary Band – Two For The Show

Trapeze (2CD)(TRDCD3501)

This is an interesting concept. John is re-releasing here his 2004 studio album “Sins”, twinned with a live set recorded two years later. It’s a beautifully crafted package, with an informative booklet, and the two sets certainly complement each other. “Sins” was originally self-released, and presumably made little impact. On first listening it sounds well worth a re-release with proper distribution. It’s a fine, funky, modern blues album, recorded with care and played by some seriously capable musicians, John’s gigging band of the time. Although “Sins” is virtually a home-made effort – some parts were recorded in guitarist Jules Fothergill’s kitchen - the sound quality is clean, dynamic and satisfying.

Although the beginnings of John’s long and distinguished career lie at the start of the 60s British blues boom, he has cleverly surrounded himself with younger musicians to keep his sound fresh and alive – and that’s just how this album sounds. He has a peerless rhythm section of Dave Hadley Ray on bass, and fearsomely metronomic (yet still soulful) drummer Joachim Greve. Belgian Dominique Vantomme fills out on keys, but dominating the overall sound is the sublime guitar playing of the aforementioned Jules Fothergill, who also takes a hand in songwriting and production. And on top of it all John O’Leary’s powerful harmonica and vocals, with hints of that endearing trademark Irish brogue, like overtones in an old whiskey.

The album kicks off with a couple of staples from John’s live set – Early In the Morning and Snatch it Back, both from the repertoire of O’Leary mentor Junior Wells. Then we get I’m Tired, which dates back to John’s time with the Savoy Brown Blues Band, and features a guest vocal from Dave Walker, onetime singer with that seminal blues-boom band. The song is updated and livened by an insistent guitar riff from Jules Fothergill.

Then things start getting interesting with the freshly-penned material. There are a couple of gospel-theme numbers – Blue Water and Save My Soul - with powerful backing vocals from Lorna Reilly (now Fothergill... yes she married the guitarist!) and Rietta Austin. Most of the new tunes make a welcome departure from the 12-bar blues format, and move into soul-funk territory, a genre which ideally suits this young, energetic band.

John is a generous man who does not hog the limelight, and he gives the band an instrumental number to stretch out on – And Everything, a funk workout for the boys. A second funk instrumental, the intriguingly-titled Chiswick Roundabout, provides a solid bed for some blistering yet quite melodic O’Leary harmonica.

The accompanying disc is a live recording of a 2006 gig at Mr. Kyps in Poole, Dorset, and provides a chance to hear John O’Leary’s more traditional live set but in the same context of a young, funky band. It’s a perfect combination – a seasoned, mature musician with fresh, modern backing. The whole serves as a fine testament to a stalwart of the British blues scene.

Rating: 8 – Dave Dix