In their new album Deck of Cards, The Wildcat O’Halloran Band adhere to the simple principles of American blues in their quest to get everyone in the room moving to the rhythm of their groove-packed sound, and while only slightly experimental in tone, their artistic efforts produce some surprisingly urbane results. In the songs “Blues Energy,” “They Told Me,” “But” and “If Ifs Were 5ths,” this blues unit get feisty with the guitars and even a little excessive with the swing in the beat, but for what the material lacks in polish and conservative aesthetics, it provides a slew of rare sonic gems not commonly found in the underground (nor the mainstream, for that matter) nowadays.
There’s nothing artificial in the construction of Deck of Cards’ best songs, and while this isn’t to suggest that the record wasn’t mixed with a meticulous hand, there’s never any doubt as to whether or not we’re listening to something that didn’t require a lot of additional soundboard skills to sparkle. “Cost of Living” and the title track, as different as they are, both share a frank melodicism that is endearingly humble yet totally removed from the minimalist conceptualism a lot of their alternative contemporaries would have employed, further distancing this band’s sound from that of any larger trends in their scene today.
The basslines in “Tell Papa,” “I Wonder Who” and “Crunch Time” have a lot of texture – to put it mildly – but I think it was necessary to afford them a little extra space in the mix as a means of balancing out the monolithic nature of the guitar parts in all three of these songs. Making a really physical blues album is easier than making a rousing LP as steeped in tangible tonality as it is moving grooves that shake and rattle the floorboards beneath our feet, and in this instance, I’m happy The Wildcat O’Halloran Band decided to record the latter.
After the guitars, I think that the biggest draw in Deck of Cards is its rhythm, which in “Blues Energy,” “Tell Papa” and the title cut makes it just about impossible for listeners to turn away from our speakers until every last component of the groove has finished stampeding through the air around us. Outside of the lyrics O’Halloran dispatches to us, it’s the percussive element in this album that tells us a unique story, almost independent from the poetic narratives that are found in every song here.
It isn’t without a couple of surface flaws here and there that would likely be dismissed by serious blues fans as being the result of making an emotionally uncut LP, but at the end of the day, The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s Deck of Cards is a great look for the group whose moniker it bears with pride. We’re living in one of the most eclectic eras in the history of popular western music, but this is band that isn’t interested in keeping up with the Joneses when they get into the studio to record. They’re following the beat of their own drum, and that’s highly evident in Deck of Cards.
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