The Weekly Recorder

Volume 118 No. 10                                Friday, March 10, 2006

 

 

               Previews and Reviews

                                          By Steve Chess

 

     Pat O’Brien is perhaps a common name, but this name is possessed by a most uncommon musician. The man of whom I speak was born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Honing his skills as a vocalist and instrumentalist since before entering his teens, O’Brien has paid his dues playing hundreds of gigs, with numerous bands throughout the tri-state area. Sharing the stage with the likes of Blues legends Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon while still in his (O’Brien’s) early twenties, Pat O’Brien sensed the need to broaden his horizons. Heading West to media capitol, Los Angeles, CA seemed to provide viable options.

     Over the past twenty years or so, the multi-instrumentalist has cultivated a career and reputation as a sought after teacher, session player and performer. Among the more celebrated of Pat’s students have been the Eisner’s (family of then Disney CEO), actresses Sarah Gilbert and Lecy Goranson, best known for their roles as the teenaged daughters on the “Roseanne,” and actress Charlene Tilton, (to name a few). He was asked (and he accepted) to play on two albums of Jazz-Fusion guru, Scott Henderson. One of these albums (“Dog Party”) was voted Guitar Player magazine’s Blues Album of the Year, edging out B. B. King and Eric Clapton for the honor that year.  O’Brien has also toured Europe with Henderson’s band, singing, playing guitar and playing Blues harp (harmonica).

     This brings us to discussion of Pat O’Brien's performances. The genre that Pat usually uses to express himself is the Blues, though he demonstrates proficiency in Rock, Jazz, Country, Rockabilly and Ambient styles of music. I have never seen another artist do what he does with his level of virtuosity. His unique style of performing often involves simultaneously playing guitar and harmonica, not in the primitive wheezing and strumming fashion that you might have seen in the past, but in a highly developed way that seamlessly blends the two instruments as if from one mind, which of course, it is. Playing intricate solos on harmonica while comping (accompanying) on guitar, comping on harmonica while soloing on guitar, playing point, counterpoint and unison phrases on both, O’Brien does all this with an effortless ease that belies the level of difficulty. His soulful vocals along with those of his world class drummer Jimmy Volpe (and a rotating series of bass players) completes his power trio, “Pat O’Brien and the Priests of Love.”

     The band is currently playing venues primarily on the West Coast and Las Vegas, but free audio aand video samples are available at their web site (www.priestsoflove.com). Also available at the web site are their first two albums, “On A Mission” and “Rockin’ the Blues and Spankin’ the Swang.” The first album ("On Mission") is recorded almost entirely "live in the studio,"which adds a certain excitement to the recordings not usually experienced on a studio recording. The songs are mostly Pat O'Brien originals With the exception of three classic Blues tunes ("A Good Fool Is Hard To Find," "Come On Over" and an homage to Stevie Ray Vaughan,"The Sky Is Crying"). The second album, "Rockin' the Blues and Spankin' the Swang," has a more traditional polished studio recording feel. All of the songs on this album were penned either by Pat O'Brien or O'Brien in collaboration with Jimmy Volpe. All numbers on both Albums are delivered with the trademark passion and energy for which this band has become renowned. There is a generous distribution of instrumental numbers on both albums, which really showcases the virtuosity of this power trio. Scott Henderson probably expressed the views of many when he said, “Pat is one of my favorite Blues musicians. He plays the best harp in the world, and it’s just not fair that he’s also a killer guitarist. Truly scary!”