November 2005

The John O'Leary Band  “SINS"  JOL CD 001

Review by Pete Feenstra

 It was back in the days of England winning the World Cup, that Irish harp player John O’Leary formed the seminal blues rockers Savoy Brown. Barely two years later and well over a decade before any of his current band was born, Champion Jack Dupree described him as “the best harp player since Sonny Boy Williamson”.  37 years on John leads an exuberant young band comprising some of the best talent on the British live circuit, and on the evidence of this debut album, the harp maestro has successfully fused the traditional with the contemporary. It is in the latter respect that this blues album stands out from a hundred others.  For while John career saw him play with the all star Mainsqueeze, The John Dummer Band and of course Savoy Brown, he has spent his most recent years developing his own oeuvre in the company of hungry young guns for whom blues is but one of many musical options.  In many ways this isn’t even a blues album Sure, John opens with the impressive brace of “Early In The Morning” and an excellent reading of Junior Wells “Snatch It Back & Hold It”, but the driving force here is the tension that underlies some top quality playing from a well drilled road band.  John’s harp playing is authoritative throughout, and he adds a soulful rap on “Blue Water”, which concerns the “Sins” subject matter for the album’s title.

O’Leary’s band is quite superb throughout with the twin guitar attack of producer Jules Fothergill and his guitar accomplice Tim O’Sullivan constantly strains at the leash. The rhythm section of American bassist David Hadley-Ray and German drummer Joachim Greve constantly push the front line players to the maximum, while Belgian keyboard player Dominique Vantomme who adds some sumptuous fills. On the album highlight “Who’s Been Talking” he plays a quite beautifully judged solo on which each note is delicately and deliberately delivered – a welcome case of the space between the notes adding to the dynamic.  John O’Leary tops the track with an emotive vocal, and a clever wistful outro.  This number alone embodies real presence, feel, and is the kind of deep blues outing that few other contemporary blues albums can match.  Together with the impressive “Waiting for You”, these two songs alone suggest a band that never panders to the cliché’s of either Chicago or West Coast swing, but is busy developing its own style. For the rest, former Savoy Brown member and guest vocalist Dave walker brings an early Stan Webb style warble to “I’m Tired”.  The albums only full blown shuffle, “Move Away” is another highlight as O’Leary blows fiercely over Jules mesmerising slide guitar, before the twin guitars duel away into the sunset. The closing gospel feel of “Save My Soul” rounds off a successful meeting of old and new