Stately and yet as barebones as their ambitious compositional wit will allow for, The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s “Crunch Time,” the opening track in their new album Deck of Cards, comes swinging out of the silence like a mad drunkard stumbling out of the bar just after last call and doesn’t stop pummeling us with its bluesy blows until we’re grooving to the rhythm of the beat. Deck of Cards doesn’t waste any time getting our attention with this first slab of blues-rock intensity, its slow-rolling counterpart in “But” and the loose-rocking title track, but as we’ll soon discover, the first half of this LP is arguably as addictive to audiophiles as its second is.
The Wildcat O’Halloran Band really start to turn up the heat on their riffage when we get into the rollicking dirge “If Ifs Were 5ths,” which much like their cover of the Ray Charles staple “I Wonder Who,” is even more defined by its guitar showmanship than it is any of the accentuating instrumental components – or even the lead vocal itself. Along with “Tell Papa,” these songs are probably the most melodically engaging of any you’re going to hear on this record, but they don’t overshadow the neighboring tunes in the tracklist at all. One of the coolest things about this LP is the fact that, while all of the material is based on a conventional blues concept, there’s no predicting what sort of rhythmic fireworks are going to be awaiting us in the next song.
“Got Love If You Want” bleeds sharp blue tonality like nobody’s business, but beneath its charismatic cosmetics, there’s a lot of country soul in The Wildcat O’Halloran Band’s delivery in this track. Southern rock clearly played at least somewhat of an influence in their creation of this latest release, but to a greater extent, I detect a hint of experimental swing in tracks like “Thy Told Me” that is harder to pin down using typical genre classifications. Of course, songs like the cut and dry “Blues Energy” are undeniably tailor-made for blues-worshipping audiences of all ages and backgrounds, but I think there’s a clear desire to operate outside of the box as much as possible on the part of the players here. They’re not interested in getting lumped in with their contemporaries; for The Wildcat O’Halloran Band, playing by rules doesn’t appear to fit into their approach to making new music.
Deck of Cards comes to a conclusion with the poignant ballad “Cost of Living,” which despite being devoid of the electrified energy of the nine tracks that precede its haunting acoustic harmony winds up feeling like one of the more profound songs on the album. The Wildcat O’Halloran Band aren’t the lone source for good blues in the underground these days, but for my money, their new LP is a great listen for folks who like a little bit of American twang mixed in with a guitar-driven melody. They’ve made a fan out of me, and they’ll certainly be staying on my radar for the foreseeable future.