Self-taught musician Marty O’Reilly and his trio serve up Americana and folk built on a foundation of Delta blues.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Marty O’Reilly used to sit in his room strumming the same chord on his guitar for as long as two hours straight. He was learning how to play the blues and early on he discovered that anyone with a guitar and a chord tablature could eventually figure out how to pluck out a Robert Johnson or Lightin’ Hopkins tune, since some of their most famous work consists of a single note or chord. That helped O’Reilly realize that the blues is most about the stuff that can’t be taught or transcribed: It’s the heart-wrenching grunts, the percussive sounds made with the non-fretting hand and the various fingerpicking styles that give the blues its character and soul.
“It’s not about where a [blues song] goes, it’s about the headspace and drive,” O’Reilly says. “People like Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker could play the same chord for five minutes and not have it sound repetitive because their heart is in it.”
Another lesson he picked up: Blues songs are meant to be passed around and each time they’re played by a different artist, they take on a new identity.
“The words remain somewhat constant, but the musical context can change entirely,” O’Reilly says. “A huge part of a person’s voice and identity can translate a song in a very unique way.”
O’Reilly’s identity as a faithful delta bluesman pours out in his rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Rolling and Tumbling.” His vocals bear a likeness to Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline voice as he cranks out authentic, swampy slide guitar – like a rusty front porch swing – intertwined with a rhythm that travels at the pace of a humid, mid-summer Mississippi day.
The blues was the only music O’Reilly focused on for a long time, but over the years he’s branched out and delved into other genres like Western soul and Americana. The blues however, remain at the core of everything he does, from his trio featuring Jeff Kissell on double bass and Chris Lynch on fiddle – performing Saturday at Fernwood – to his duo with guitarist Sean Carscadden.
After more than a year in the studio, O’Reilly and Carscadden released their lyrically-driven debut Broke the Moon last November. Amongst the 11 tracks lurk gems including “Aim High,” which showcase O’Reilly’s gift for scribing unpretentious imagery that sticks with you long after the song ends: “Sometimes the future feels as close as the end of the day/ So you don’t stop and wonder if you even know the way.”
In February, O’Reilly’s trio will release a live album recorded at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. One of the highlights is “If I Had My Way” – a Blind Willie Johnson song sometimes known as “Samson and Delilah” – which separates itself from previous versions through Lynch’s shredding fiddle, O’Reilly’s lead on banjo and a mini solo on stand-up bass. It’s not every day the blues comes with fiddle. And it’s not every day there’s a blues group like this.
CHRIS LYNCH and the MARTY O’REILLY TRIO perform at 9pm Saturday, Jan. 12, at Fernwood Tavern and Campgrounds, 47200 Highway 1, Big Sur. Free. 667-2422.