THE WILDCAT O’ HALLORAN BAND
DECK OF CARDS
Singer/ guitarist/ bandleader Wildcat O’Halloran is based in New England and makes extremely listenable records. The opening track, Crunch Time is a meaty piece of early 60s styled Chicago rhythm ‘n’ blues (think maybe vintage Buddy Guy). If you want to hear his straight blues chops, lend an ear to his version of the slow blues I Wonder Who, with its classic and classy guitar introduction, excellent vocals, and superb instrumental breaks from Emily Duff on tenor sax and the Wildcat himself. In fact, it is worth noting here that Emily makes nearly as much of an instrumental contribution to this album as the leader. She impresses throughout, but then so do all concerned. Wildcat has a strong sense of humour, which comes through fairly frequently - he is an excellent song-writer. As the blues is often about communication, note that he has some very salient points on the latter. Try the second number But, about the second most powerful word in the English language, after “Love”, or They Told Me, about phrases we all use, and then there is also If Ifs Were Fifths about possibilities, whilst the title track is a wonderful litany of clever put-downs (“if your lips are moving, chances are you’re lying”, is just one example). Blues Energy describes his approach and the problem these days of playing to younger audiences (and looking like Tom Cruise), whilst the closing, acoustic-based Cost Of Living is certainly a blue-collar blues. All in all, this is an excellent, enjoyable contemporary blues set, firmly rooted in the tradition but with a strong, vital spark of individuality.
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The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s Deck Of Cards their coolest CD yet
By Bill Copeland on April 21, 2020
Wildcat O’Halloran is probably the most prolific recording artist on the greater-Boston/New England blues scene. He seems to have a new blues CD every year, and, this new Deck Of Cards album is his coolest yet. The Wildcat O’Halloran Band create a f un, funky party vibe here, combining their talents with an ability to create an attitude and to conjure an atmosphere.
Opening cut “Crunch Time” jumps into the game with a chugging groove and a whirling saxophone line. O’Halloran sings with his usual smooth, character rich voice. He carries us through his narrative with wit and when he hits his chorus he creates an infectious refrain with his backing singer Sarah O‘Halloran. His mean lean lead guitar phrase, grinding out an assertive push, is another of his identifying trademarks.
O’Halloran turns the word “But” into the world’s second most powerful word in the English language, utilizing his sense of humor to make a very valid point. He emits his vocal well over a rollicking oldies rock and roll beat, a beat which makes this song move with an entertaining party vibe. Lead guitar phrasing over a leapfrog shuffle groove with coatings of Emily Duff’s saxophone line paint this one well.
Title track “Deck Of Cards” is a mid-tempo cruise through a metaphorical card game. Complete with a twisty lead guitar phrase and a jittery sax line, O’Halloran and his musician cats spruce this one up with style. The rhythm section keep a hip, consistent bop on the bottom and that forces the upper registers strut.
An ode to music and drinking, “If Ifs Were Fifths” showcases O’Halloran and his backing singer Sarah O’Halloran’s ability to party up the harmony lines. Their chorus is fun and the lead guitar action going on has an intriguing start-stop motion. This tune continues the cool party vibe of the overall album and it has many perky motions from all to kick it all of its moving parts forward.
Slow boiler “I Wonder Who” by Ray Charles finds O’Halloran pressing out an eloquent lead guitar phrase, easeful in its flow, assertive in its rough timbre. Smoldering along, that guitar phrase lets O’Halloran open up the soundscape for more tender expression. A seductive saxophone line can make all the difference in a blues song, and, this one’s slow crawl downs feels as sexy as kisses on the neck. O’Halloran carries the vocal line with a steadiness that makes the feelings here run deep.
O‘Halloran‘s rendition of Clarence Carter‘s “Tell Poppa” jumps right in with an infectious groove, swinging sax, a brisk lead guitar, and a adventurous lead vocal. O’Halloran swings his vocal line well amongst the swirl of instrumentation.
Next up, O‘Halloran and company update “Got Love If You Want It,” the traditional blues tune covered by many in blues and in rock and roll. The tight, locked in groove between bass, drums, guitar, and sax make the listener feel it with their wedge of instrumentation. O’Halloran’s lead guitar break burrows forward with twists and turns and brief sustains in between that make this piece even more invigorating. His raspy lead vocals make it all authentic and Emily Duff’s spiraling soul of saxophone elevates it even higher.
“They Told Me” is another of O’Halloran’s street wise philosophy song. With much wit he recalls the adage that experience is the best teacher before he gripes that it is also the most expensive. His raspy vocal carries the message well before Emily Duff rocks out with a persistent saxophone phrase, a phrase that rocks hard with plenty of lifts, dips, and turns. Eventually, sax and guitar rock out together and it’s a good marriage between horn smoothness and guitar bite.
“Blues Energy” was inspired in part by audience comments on O’Halloran’s live stage energy. The tune also rocks with much energy as it discusses the energy needed to carry a blues song forward. O’Halloran’s simple vocal approach might remind of country singers singing their narrative. Singing in this style over an edgy support band, complete with sunny harmonies, makes this song a party as well as a lesson. And yes, O’Halloran’s backing band are all here with their fun, bopping grooves and a saxophone player unfurling her tuft of melody.
Close out track, “Cost Of Living,” by Ronnie Dun, lets O’Halloran slow things down once again. Taking his time, he unfurls a down to earth vocal approach, crooning folksy over an earthy acoustic guitar line. The sparse nature of this tune let his authentic vocal, guitar, and the message standout. It feels real, and the talent caliber is high. One can picture O’Halloran picking each one of his perky acoustic notes. Eventually, he injects a secondary line of electric guitar that dovetails nicely with his high pitched beauty.
Aside from the usual musical talents, Wildcat O’Halloran Band knock this Deck Of Cards album out of he park in terms of vibe and feeling. It is by far the coolest album they have released. Every track spikes with personality that fits perfectly into the whole of the work. Bass player Kathy Peterson keeps it in the pocket. Drummers Mark Chouinard and Gil May push these tunes along with pluck attitudes. There are many good ensemble moments as well as bright solo spots. Purchase this disc right away and play it at your next party.
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THE WILDCAT O’HALLORAN BAND’S “DECK OF CARDS” (LP)
Stately and yet as barebones as their ambitious compositional wit will allow for, The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s “Crunch Time,” the opening track in their new album Deck of Cards, comes swinging out of the silence like a mad drunkard stumbling out of the bar just after last call and doesn’t stop pummeling us with its bluesy blows until we’re grooving to the rhythm of the beat. Deck of Cards doesn’t waste any time getting our attention with this first slab of blues-rock intensity, its slow-rolling counterpart in “But” and the loose-rocking title track, but as we’ll soon discover, the first half of this LP is arguably as addictive to audiophiles as its second is.
The Wildcat O’Halloran Band really start to turn up the heat on their riffage when we get into the rollicking dirge “If Ifs Were 5ths,” which much like their cover of the Ray Charles staple “I Wonder Who,” is even more defined by its guitar showmanship than it is any of the accentuating instrumental components – or even the lead vocal itself. Along with “Tell Papa,” these songs are probably the most melodically engaging of any you’re going to hear on this record, but they don’t overshadow the neighboring tunes in the tracklist at all. One of the coolest things about this LP is the fact that, while all of the material is based on a conventional blues concept, there’s no predicting what sort of rhythmic fireworks are going to be awaiting us in the next song.
“Got Love If You Want” bleeds sharp blue tonality like nobody’s business, but beneath its charismatic cosmetics, there’s a lot of country soul in The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s delivery in this track. Southern rock clearly played at least somewhat of an influence in their creation of this latest release, but to a greater extent, I detect a hint of experimental swing in tracks like “Thy Told Me” that is harder to pin down using typical genre classifications. Of course, songs like the cut and dry “Blues Energy” are undeniably tailor-made for blues-worshipping audiences of all ages and backgrounds, but I think there’s a clear desire to operate outside of the box as much as possible on the part of the players here. They’re not interested in getting lumped in with their contemporaries; for The Wildcat O’Halloran Band, playing by rules doesn’t appear to fit into their approach to making new music.
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Deck of Cards comes to a conclusion with the poignant ballad “Cost of Living,” which despite being devoid of the electrified energy of the nine tracks that precede its haunting acoustic harmony winds up feeling like one of the more profound songs on the album. The Wildcat O’Halloran Band aren’t the lone source for good blues in the underground these days, but for my money, their new LP is a great listen for folks who like a little bit of American twang mixed in with a guitar-driven melody. They’ve made a fan out of me, and they’ll certainly be staying on my radar for the foreseeable future.
THE WILDCAT O’HALLORAN BAND RELEASE ALBUM
Crunchy and volatile in “If Ifs Were 5ths,” melodic but gutturally textured in “I Wonder Who” and straight-up explosive in “Got Love If You Want It,” one of the most important elements for us to behold in The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s Deck of Cards is its searing guitar parts, the best of which are scattered across each of the album’s ten unique songs. The Wildcat O’Halloran Band are getting back to the basics of blues-rock in their latest effort, and while they’re hardly a household name outside of their tight-knit circle of fanatics, what they’re issuing in this LP definitely qualifies as being one of the most accessible blues records you’re going to get your hands on before the conclusion of the month.
The music in Deck of Cards is heavily scooped in the style of a metal album, with tracks like “They Told Me,” the title cut and “Crunch Time” hitting us with a wallop of bass-heavy adrenaline that even the most agile of audiences couldn’t escape, and I love how well the equalization here accentuates the many grooves the LP has to offer. There’s no denying the swing-factor in most all of this material – “Tell Papa” and “Blues Energy” standing out as two of the finest examples – and even in slow numbers like “Cost of Living,” there’s never an instance where it feels like The Wildcat O’Halloran Band are giving us anything less than 110% in their passionate performance.
There are a lot of different influences in play on this record that go beyond the realm of American blues – shades of country swagger find their way into the stitching of “If Ifs Were 5ths” and the southern rocking “But,” while even more experimental constructs find quarter in the cover of “I Wonder Who,” the ballad “Cost of Living” and “They Told Me.” As diverse as all of the content on this disc is, it’s essentially tied together by the chemistry that The Wildcat O’Halloran Band can seemingly turn on like a microwave. Whether it’s seamlessly connecting a harmony with a groove pattern or simply unleashing a cathartic release amidst a tense sonic backdrop when we need it the most, they’re working in complete synchronicity in Deck of Cards, and setting quite the example for their less than well-organized peers to follow in the future.
I was only vaguely familiar with the extended works of The Wildcat O’Halloran Band prior to checking out their latest LP, but after getting hooked on the smoking leads and unstoppably sexy beats Deck of Cards features in spades, I’m planning on following their output a lot more closely from here on out. They’ve got a natural panache that comes to us wholly unaltered by the master mix in this record, and while this is far from the only independent album that I would tell underground disciples to get excited about this March, I think it easily ranks among the best in the blues genre without question. These guys have my attention, and once you hear Deck of Cards, I think they’ll have yours as well.
Driven by a sizzling lead guitar that brings to mind shades of Hendrix and SRV, the gentle blues strut of “I Wonder Who” is indeed one of the mightier elements to behold on The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s Deck of Cards LP, but make no mistake about it – this track is really just a small sampling of the vibrant musicality that the group of players behind its creation or bringing with them into this latest offering. The Wildcat O’Halloran Band pull out the big guns to construct a fiery blues-rocking firestorm in songs like Deck of Cards’ “If Ifs Were 5ths,” “Blues Energy” and “Crunch Time,” but no matter where you look in this album, you’re almost bound to find something bluesy to seduce you on the spot.
There’s a lot of physicality to the beats in “They Told Me,” “Got Love If You Want” and “Tell Papa,” and personally, I think they’re what make these three songs as infectious as they undisputedly are. Right from the get-go, the percussive pulse is contributing to the narrative behind these tracks, and although led by a flamboyant guitar attack around every corner, there’s scarcely a moment where any of the material on this LP feels sonically one-dimensional by any measurement.
The first time that I sat down with Deck of Cards, I immediately recognized “But,” the title track, “Crunch Time” and the acoustic “Cost of Living” as having been made for the stage, as they definitely showcase the presence of this group’s chemistry better than anything else I’ve heard them record has. There’s so much potential for all these compositions with regards to stage adaptation, and as I see it, the buzz surrounding this latest record from The Wildcat O’Halloran Band is likely going to trigger demands for a nationwide tour a lot sooner than later.
From start to finish, there aren’t many moments in this album’s tracklist that I would deem unfit for radio airplay, but there’s also no denying the rough edges that were seemingly left in this master mix intentionally. There’s a not so subtle grittiness to songs like “I Wonder Who” and “Got Love If You Want” that absolutely has an effect on how we interpret their themes and melodic stylization, but in the grander scheme of things, I actually like the fact that they’re being presented to us free of the additional cosmetic varnishes that many artists would liberally lean on when producing new material.
If you like blues, rock or just old school swing at its purist, you really can’t go wrong with what The Wildcat O’Halloran Band have created for us in the all-new LP Deck of Cards, which is currently out everywhere quality independent music is sold and streamed. It’s a must-listen for riff aficionados and those who live and die by a sensuous groove, but more than anyone else, I think that this group’s hardcore fans are going to be the most impressed with its black and white grandeur, and overall, what it says about where the band is going.
March 19, 2020
THE WILDCAT O’HALLORAN BAND’S DECK OF CARDS
Grooves come crashing down on us with an angsty thrust in the title track from The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s Deck of Cards, but much like the beat that frames every white-hot riff in “Crunch Time,” the rhythmic assault in the former is only one piece of the sonic puzzle this blues band is assembling for us here.
Acoustic melodies are met with a blue-hued country simplicity in “Cost of Living” just as evenly as ferocious rock tenacity gets a supercharged dose of excitement courtesy of a rebellious bassline in “Got Love If You Want.” “Blues Energy” melds a bit of tradition with a whole lot of experimental edge, but while it’s a different spin on a classic model than what “They Told Me” has to offer, this pair of tracks gels just fine with the smooth harmonies contained in “But” and the eruptive “Tell Papa.” To put it as simply as I can, The Wildcat O’Halloran mean serious business in this brand new effort, and if you came expecting big blues theatrics, you’re going to be quite pleased with what this crew is dispensing in their most recent set of recordings.
As engaging as the instrumental side of Deck of Cards is, the lyrical content here is definitely just as sharp a tool in this band’s war chest. “I Wonder Who” (a cover of Ray Charles), “If Ifs Were 5ths” and the title track are just as intriguing poetically as any of the verses in the vocal-led “Cost of Living” are, and even when there’s a bit of muddiness in the melody for our singer to contend with (i.e. the dirty rock of “Crunch Time” and “Got Love If You Want”), his voice is never drowned out by the deluge of distorted decadence supporting his every line.
The rhythm in this album, in all of its varied incarnations, is as big a communicator of the mood behind the music as any specific lyric is, and when we add up all of the compositional intricacies within every composition on the LP, I think it’s more than fair to classify The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s latest album as being an exhibition in blues experimentation as much as it is a flex of aesthetical muscularity their fans are more than deserving of.
I’m just getting into their collective discography, but right now, I think this is one of the premier indie blues acts to keep an eye on in 2020. The Wildcat O’Halloran Band shines like a diamond in the rough in Deck of Cards, steering clear of overindulgence while refusing to back down from an over the top homage to classic blues virtuosity when they can manage it, and whether this is your first time experiencing their jams or you’ve been following their growth since the very beginning, I think you should give this record a close examination this March. There are a lot of talented blues bands making a name for themselves in the American underground at the moment, but few that I’ve personally found to be as on-point and focused as this act is.
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