Chris O'Leary / The Chris O'Leary Band

Mr. Used to Be

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Chris O'Leary and his blues sextet hail from the Hudson Valley of New York, but there's more than a trace of New Orleans in his music. Perhaps it's the influence of his former boss, Levon Helm. The Band (and Helm's drumming) made a lot of music with the Crescent City vibe and O'Leary, who sings and plays harp and mandolin, spent seven years touring with Helm's band the Barnburners, and so did the O'Leary band's bassman, Frankie Ingrao. Like the Band, O'Leary and company have a laid-back sound, but their solid groove and tight ensemble playing and O'Leary's superlative songwriting make them a powerful unit. Things kick off with the title tune, a good-natured kiss-off of an unfaithful spouse driven by O'Leary's moaning harp, the subdued lead lines of guitarist Chris Vitarello, and the jaunty fills of guest pianist Bruce Katz. "Christine" is an old-fashioned country blues accented by O'Leary's wailing harp, Vitarello's slide guitar, and Ingrao's kicked-back walking bass. "Grease Monkey Mama" is a romp that brings to mind the early fusion of rockabilly and R&B that made Sun Records a legend. O'Leary's lazy vocal brings a touch of salacious sexuality to the tune with just a trace of Elvis in his inflection. Vitarello adds a well-constructed jazzy solo. Vitarello's opening solo on "Blues Is a Woman" sets up the B.B. King-like tune. O'Leary's restrained vocal and a burnished horn section complement the tune's Memphis feel. The New Orleans influence is most obvious on "Water's Risin'," a bouncing gospel-flavored tune that could be about the Katrina disaster with its reference to sinking boats and high water, and "Tchoupitoulas," a tribute to the city of Mardi Gras and good music driven by Sean McCarthy's rolling second-line drumming.

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