Gary O’Dea – Fly
Reviewed by Pete Millington
Fly is the new album on Gojo Music by Black Country based singer-songwriter Gary O’Dea. Finely engineered and produced by the multi-talented Eddy Morton, Fly is an engaging collection of well-crafted songs from one of the region’s best song-smiths.
In spite of his resilient acoustic-songster foundation, having journeyed a well-trodden path of being able to ‘pick up his guitar and play’ to whatever audience he is presented with, from street busking to sophisticated wine bars and from back-street boozers to vast festivals, to pigeonhole Gary O’Dea as a folk minstrel might ring partially true but fall widely short of his seamless capacity to blend musical elements.
Past albums have melded blues, country, funk, soul and reggae with steadfast passion and artistic ease. In Gary’s own words his music has an old school punk attitude whilst blending all of these elements to create rocking mixes of rhythms to soothe the soul in troubled times.
Fly continues this art of subtly blending genres and more, as Gary O’Dea brings in a tight backing set of accomplished musicians and singers to bring new dimensions to his well-written songs. These include the excellent Eddy Morton who brings in everything from sitar effects to mandolin, dobro and slide guitar, Raj Sahota on dohl and tabla, Micky Barker on drums, Dan Clark on trumpet, Jen Robbins backing vocals along with the interestingly named Birmingham Clarion Singers Socialist Choir.
The album contains some personal stories of love and relationships such as the ballad Angel about a young couple who overcome their barriers to build a happy home. The song has an acoustic simplicity. Take the Money and Run My Dear is a catchy and danceable song with some exotic sitar strands from Eddy Morton.
Be Careful What You Wish For is an honest and cautionary view of the times and the people we meet in our lives, the comfort zone dwellers and fence sitters. Gary O’Dea can’t be accused of being a purveyor of naive or combative protest-songs, his messages have a subtle cynicism which deserve deeper delving.
Build It Like a Rock is a more soulful call to build a new social foundation, an anthem for collectivism and fresh values in modern times of war and austerity. Gary O’Dea appeals to put aside past disillusionment and to go again, which seems an apt message given the potential of new political leadership in the UK.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a track named Interlude – some off-the-wall sound effects halfway through the album perhaps – approaching footsteps and an opening door on creaky hinges? The noises of a street riot? But the expectation of the unknown dissipates with some sweet harmonica (or am I allowed to say harmonic harmonica) and acoustic guitar. Interlude is actually another great Gary O’Dea commentary of the modern world, using the metaphor of the interlude between tv programmes as the opportunity to think for ourselves. The message is one of anti-complacency, turn off your tv, we’re dancing on our own graves, calling for reflection – an interlude to bring about a change – seize the day!
In a Zone – is another personal song of love and passion – the private zone of love created by two people in love. The slide guitar adds to a dreamy and captivating song. Things Are Gonna Change is a sweet and moving song with the Birmingham Clarion Singers Socialist Choir and keyboard refrains straight out of a 60s Stax record, it builds like a South African freedom anthem but is actually a reflective love song with fascinating references to Ian Curtis of Joy Division towards the end, including the final line Love’s Gonna Tear Us Apart ...Again.
You, Me and Al Green is another soulful song spun on top of a light, tinkling piano, not an explicit tribute to Al Green but the story of a relationship based on the Green-inspired faith which keeps people together.
All Down The Days – Gary O’Dea the socialist poet and troubadour at his best. A swinging folk song driven along by still more danceable percussion and mandolin, with strong references to Robert Tressell’s text of the past (The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist) – “do I tuck my shirt in or leave it hanging out? All down the days from the cradle to the grave”. This song exemplifies Gary’s catchy poetic style.
The final track on the album is its title track, Fly – and arguably Gary O’Dea has left the very best until last – a sublimely smooth acoustic jazz soul track – loving Dan Clark’s trumpet and Jen Robbins providing backing vocal. An optimistic close to the album – flying high above the clouds – takes me to a summer day in an open top car on a freeway heading to the coast. Yeah! If only... but Gary O’Dea helps me dream.