First Review of "Live 2023"
Wildcat O’Halloran Band prove their salt in concert with 2023 Live! album
By Bill Copeland on March 29, 2023
The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s new concert album 2023 Live! proves a worthy document of this blues band’s lively live shows. O’Halloran’s bracing guitar, Emily Duff’s plumes of sax melody, Tony Nedik’s snappy low end, and Mark Chouinard’s perfect drum fills come together in one hazy, crazy blues party recorded during First Night Northampton at Drunken Rabbit Brewery.
Steppen’ Out kicks off the show with O’Halloran’s aggressive chord progression which soon moves into a bristling lead guitar phrase. Duff eventually chimes in with a smoother take on the main melody line, finessing this song by giving it a smoother bottom The rhythm section guys hold it up by punctuating with sudden smacks. It’s this band chemistry and the way they sort out the colors and tones along the way that make them distinct.
“Good Man” finds them moving to a shuffle beat, a rocking chair groove. O’Halloran plays over it with flinty notes, contrasting with Duff’s soulful puffs of sax melody. Crunchy and chewy at once, the upper registers have fun with their alternate phrasings. Again, the rhythm section carry it home with a special touch. Nedik and Chouinard pepper their groove with plenty of low end knobs and skin smacking pops.
Moving with a large party energy, “Good Time Charlie” finds the band members each punching in something special. O’Halloran amuses with his breezy vocal while unleashing some sizzling guitar licks. Duff’s saxophone winds around the groove like a snake hiding behind rocks. Meanwhile, the rhythms section’s danceable groove completes the picture of a fun party with a lot of moving parts.
“Worried” turns another shuffle groove into a piece that spits out flinty electric guitar bits, shards of sax, and a lilting groove one can dance to if one can take their ears off the neatly played notes flying around. The band jams out a bit, the upper registers playing flinty and smoother notes in ever wider phrases before tightening things up in the end. It’s the depth of motion that captures the listener’s attention.
O’Halloran unleashes his husky blues voice in the pleading song, “Angel Of Mercy.” His vocal climbs up strongly over a slow burn lead guitar grind. His guitar tone and guitar phrase linger over the purposeful swagger of a considerate groove, pulpy fills and deep, rich low end. These elements come together with just the right energy, tone, and color to create the slow boil vibe this type of song needs. Again, the band’s chemistry is a large part of what makes things happen right.
“Slow Down” does anything but slow down. It’s a lively, mid-tempo jive. O’Halloran’s jumpy vocal boogies. Hoisted by his assertive, fuzzy guitar chords and a bopping rhythm section, the ensemble carries us through the fun. Duff’s flight of fancy sax phrasing moves in intervals and spirals, notes she can lasso with her feisty, dancing melody. Duff also adds to the fun by enlarging upon the guitar’s take on the main phrase. This rendition makes the listener imagine everyone on the dance floor finding their steps and getting into this lively, motivating piece.
“Can’t Get It Like That” finds Chouinard riffing on the high hat and symbol, creating a rhythmic allure. The band chimes in around that rhythm, using a start-stop rhythm of their own. This mix of high hat work and band groove keep this piece filled with foot moving action.
A bit swampy and stomping, “If God Can Make That” makes the most out of a huge wedge of groove. The rhythm boys are swinging away, putting in a thick, punchy groove with plenty of fills and low end. Over that platform, O’Halloran makes his guitar cry out high notes before strangling his lead, making it thick and bossy. It fun to hear him stomping around that wedge of groove, pressing out a rippling phrase.
“If You Love Me Like You Do” is another fine groove number. The rhythm section pumps out ripples, low end nudges and drum fills that create a vibe while motivating the feet to move. Meanwhile, Duff makes her sax dance around this beat. Puffs and plumes of a soft, jazzy sax line find their place in the spaces left open by the rhythm section and Duff goes to town filling numerous intervals of appeal into this piece. When the man of the hour chimes in with six string whistles, he bring with him an edge that compresses more energy, making the musical muscles tense with action.
Breezy crawler “Sweet Little Angel” begins like a cloud on a light wind. Light nudges of electric guitar and puffs of tender sax intertwine. The vibe that creates makes a good home for O’Halloran’s tender vocal expression. He wrings the sweetness out of the B.B. King lyrics. Yet, he expresses even more passion on his electric six string, building up a mountain of high sweet smooths and cascading with grittier grinding notes. The band runs the full range of expression as this one transforming it into a raucous affair by the end.
“Them Changes” is straight forward blues with the Wildcat colors and tones thrown in. O’Halloran’s feisty lead guitar phrase is loaded with snap, crackle, and pop. He grinds out a lot of aggression in his guitar timbre, a sound buffeted by Duff’s smoother, but not less assertive sax line. The two in unison are a plus for this and other songs they perform.
Close out track “Fixin’ To Be De-Nazify Rag” is a whimsical take on a Vietnam protest song. This one takes up modern military concerns with O’Halloran being witty with a simple acoustic chord progression supporting him. It’s cute.
The Wildcat O’Halloran Band certainly put a lot of effort into their live shows. With a crack rhythm section, two loose, flexible upper register players, and the front man’s warm, amicable vocal takes, they play a lot of fun blues with impressive flourishes throughout.
Another review ! From Bill Copeland!
Global blues radio interview
Cat on the Edge-Boston City Hall
This from the Tidewater Blues Fest:
You know man it's hard to believe but you are even better in concert than I ever expected you to be such a good show man I'm still just blown away! You guys kicked ass, and your wireless guitar roaming around the building climbing up the stairs and standing on the table definitely raise the bar for next year's Tidewater Blues Festival thanks again buddy!
Reached #1 on Radio Guitar One
This album was #88 for the year in 2021 RMR Blues chart ( #19 in Blues-Rock!)
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