Review by Fred Rudofsky
There are few things better in life than hearing a band tear it up on a Friday night, in Albany no less. As the the Chris O’Leary Band proved in three dynamic sets at The Bayou, the blues is alive and well, especially here in our own backyard.
O’Leary, an ex-Marine who served an equal stint of six years with Levon Helm’s Barn Burners, fronts a homegrown band that fires on all cylinders. Opening with a swing blues, “I Ain’t Gonna Do It”, O’Leary declaimed with authority in his vocals and harp, locking into a playful banter with the Bonneville Horns, Chris DeFrancesco (baritone sax) and Andy Stahl (tenor sax) that proved to be a hallmark throughout the evening.
The first set was replete with originals from their debut album, “Mr. Used to Be” (VizzTone Records), as well as songs from an upcoming album set for later this year. “I Need You (Like I Need a Hole in My Head)” delivered wit and verve, rooted in some fine drumming by Sean McCarthy and a duet vocal by O’Leary and Willa McCarthy. The Gulf Coast sounds of Excello Records (“Louisiana Woman”) and Mardi Gras (“Tchoupitoulas”) offered fine tempos for even wallflowers to leave the bar and hit the dance floor. “Letters from Home” addressed the blues faced by the soldier overseas, with O’Leary’s slow aching harp paired with Chris Viterello’s agitated guitar bringing to mind vintage Junior Wells and Buddy Guy.