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Kevin O: Heretic Blues

Derek Taylor By

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Contrary to the early promise shown by the resurgence in all things Swing a few years ago the topography of the genre is now plagued by an unsavory glut. Worse yet, many among the throng of hipsters who have fueled the renaissance still appear only peripherally familiar with the history of the musical bag from which they are plundering. As a giant amalgam of derivative styles, the Neo-Swing Movement is finally showing signs of imploding in upon itself in a debacle of self-indulgence and overexposure. Standing stories above the impending wreckage Kevin O’Donnell’s Quality Six seems poised to weather the storm. His is a band that cleverly avoids dipping from the same stylistic reservoir twice, balancing a healthy respect for the past with a playful modernism. It’s a philosophy that manages to keep their debut disc fresh by not resorting to stale imitation.

Instrumentally the band is tight. Bird’s electric violin churns up equal parts grease and fire bringing to mind a youthful approximation of the classic Stuff Smith sound. Check out his sawing bow work on the opening “Moten Swing” and “Girl from New York City”, both prime examples of his enthusiastic approach to his instrument. Hirsch’s buoyant slapping runs blend tautly with the leader’s brushes and sticks and the bassist’s brief, but industrious solo on “My Friend Eddie” gives a concise snapshot of his skills. Williams brings a funky twang to his string attack that contrasts smoothly with Bunn’s cleaner chording. Another plus is O’Donnell’s reliance on sparser charts that avoid bombast and kitsch and make excellent use of the group’s smaller dimensions. However, all this praise should be tempered with some criticism and for me the group’s instrumental breaks fare a lot better than the frequent vocal passages. Bird’s singing style recalls too much of a Harry Connick croon for my tastes, but the lyrics, most penned by O’Donnell, carry over an easy bohemian bounce that blends well with the vibe he’s trying to get across.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of O’Donnell’s band is their crossover appeal. Followers of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Brian Setzer Orchestra, and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies will find familiar ground and much to enjoy in the music these seven men create. Likewise, fans of classic swing who may abhor those aforementioned groups will be pleasantly surprised by the ways this group reconciles the past with the present and comes up with something that is clearly their own.


Track Listing: Moten Swing/ Heretic Blues/ Girl From New York City/ Self Inflicted/ My Friend Eddie/ Could You Please Move Over?/ Stack O

Personnel: Kevin O

Title: Heretic Blues | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Delmark Records


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