Some people’s lives just read like a blues song. I’m not telling tales out of school about Polly O’Keary, she posts her life story on her web page. As a child, she lived in a log cabin without electricity or running water. As a teen, she was working bars in Mexico. By the age of 19 she was married with a husband in prison and she herself had only an eighth-grade education.
Twenty years later, she was an accomplished bass player who was in-demand by some of the best names in the business. She had played on four continents and was working towards a Ph.D.
Now she fronts her own band, Polly O’Keary And The Rhythm Method along with her fiancé and fellow rhythm section member, drummer Tommy Cook, and guitarist extraordinaire, David Miller.
This powerful trio is releasing their newest album, Black Crow Callin’, as an independent release on May 12, and it has been catching some advance attention of a number of fans and followers. Joining these three on the album are special guests The Powerhouse Horns, consisting of Rich Cole on baritone and tenor saxophone, and Pete Kirkman on trumpet for two songs; Norm Bellas on Hammond B3 for two songs; Eric Robert on piano for one song; and Jim McLaughlin on harmonica for the title track.
Sheri Roberts Grimes and Christina Porter provide backing vocals for two songs. The group split the songwriting chores and all ten songs are attributed to the three members of the band.
The band gets funky right out of the gate with Hard Hearted World. O’Keary has a strong voice and Eric Robert plays the hell out of the piano, giving us a lesson in barrelhouse. The rhythm section lays down a great beat and when Miller gets a chance to put in a break, he makes the most of it. A fun song.
Next up is a softer song, A Man Who Can Stand, that has some observations about the struggle between the genders. O’Keary’s voice takes on a frustrated resignation while hoping to be able to find a partner that can stand on his own two feet and stand by her. The lyrics are pointed and the song has got to get a positive response from the women in the audience.
The band rocks out on the following number, Red Light. It’s a frenetic number that gets amped up by Bellas’ B3. How often have we felt this panic set in while having to get somewhere in a hurry? Every little thing gets magnified and takes on a frustrating significance. I’m always glad to hear a new song that explores an area I haven’t heard done by everyone, and this song fits that category. Miller’s guitar work builds the tension so well.
The title track, Black Crow Callin’, is next. It’s a slower, quieter number that showcases O’Keary’s voice and makes the most of McLaughlin’s harp playing. It’s an old-school style song and one that features some of Miller’s best fretwork.
There’s more funk on the way with Yours To Lose. The band has shown several different styles that are in their repertoire and done a pretty good job with each. Blues touches so many styles and they’ve stayed true to the core of blues while adding some touches of rock and funk to the songs as well. This one is pretty cool.
One Life starts off with some soaring guitar work from Miller before O’Keary’s vocals take over the song. She’s softened her approach for this track, and while she still has her edge, she’s singing from a different place. It’s a lovely number.
They start off the next song, Reconciled, in a similar manner and O’Keary’s vocals are impressive, going from a soft purr to a full-throated expression in a matter of seconds. This is another beautiful song that blends their best elements together. It might not be a traditional blues song, but the lyrics certainly live in the world of the blues and Miller’s guitar work is outstanding.
The band heads back to funk territory with I Don’t Understand. It’s the story of a woman who makes herself into everything her man tells her he likes. After she gets to that ideal, well, he finds someone else. I wouldn’t understand it either. And when you hear that tone in O’Keary’s voice, I would be afraid if I were you…
The raucous Plan B follows. So many people never make than Plan B, so when things go south, they’ve got nowhere to go. I love this song and plan on dropping it into an episode of Time For The Blues shortly. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll find some other way to share it, that’s my Plan B.
The album concludes with I Am The One. Cook’s drums open things up and the song adds a touch of swamp magic to the album. O’Keary’s voice drops into a menacing whisper and with Miller’s wicked sounding guitar, the song can raise the hair on the back of your neck. A very cool song.
I missed their previous album, Compass, but fortunately I can still hunt one down. I liked the sounds they put together on this album and I am very interested to see how they evolved. This is a band that doesn’t mind taking chances. Their songs are powerful self-expressions and deliver more than just your typical covers that we hear in nearly every bar.
Black Crow Callin’ is a solid album for just about every blues lover. Blues purists might not react to it in the same way I have, but if you like your blues with some funk, some rock, and a helluva voice on your singer, this one might be for you.
We’ve got a number of friends in the Pacific Northwest territory. I’m calling on them to catch this band live as they tend to stay near home. Once you see them live, send me a report, I’m eager to hear how they work a crowd. The best way to find out where they are going to be is to check their website: http://www.pollyokeary.com/.