Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin
Joe Olnick has built, over the course of five albums, a considerable reputation as one of the most inventive guitarists and bandleaders working today, mainstream or indie. His sixth release of original instrumental compositions, Downtown, is constructed around the theme of urban life, particularly the sort experienced in the near-megalopolis of eastern seaboard locales like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and so forth. Olnick and his band mates are a distinctly different proposition for listeners in a live setting, unreeling long improvisational runs off the band’s material, so the seven tracks on Downtown essentially present us with templates for future live performances. Downtown illustrates the increasing sophistication and ambition driving Olnick’s playing and songwriting, as well, and even those who love vocals will find themselves quickly bewitched by the fluency and articulation of Olnick’s musical ideas.
The title song has an undeniable groove for the band to ride from first note to last. The delightfully lubricous wah wah guitar running as an undercurrent through the song locks in rather nicely with the rhythm section of bassist Jamie Aston and drummer Jamie Smucker while Olnick lays some emphatic, yet considered, lead guitar over the top. The album’s warm production has immense polish and minimal overdubs, yet never sounds anything less than completely authentic. There’s definitely a sense of open-hearted frolic coming with the song “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part One)” and Olnick’s lead guitar scales impressive melodic heights. It has a nice bounce, as well, that’s refreshingly never over-exaggerated and the overall mood marks a nice shift in gears from the smokier, more “mysterious” opener. “Food Truck” takes listeners into near fusion territory and Jamie Aston’s gymnastic bass work will please newcomers and experienced listeners alike. Olnick’s guitar work hits some bluesy notes here with excellent effect, but it’s equally melodic as well and fully cognizant of its role in the overall sound.
Downtown’s longest cut comes with “Parkside”, a patiently developed number beginning with stuttered, slightly muted guitar strumming and ghostly organ swelling from the mix. There’s a near reggae quality to the song’s growing lope and elements gradually start filling in the song’s shape more and more as it progresses. There are hints of a darker, more intense sound entering the song’s second half immeasurably enhancing the song as a whole. “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part Two)” is much different from the first part, a more diffuse tune that makes its impact through accumulation rather than outright melodic motifs or ideas. Despite another fine rhythm section performance, Olnick’s guitar takes more of a demonstrable lead on “Rush Hour” than the earlier tracks and fires off one bluesy blast after another with just enough distortion to deepen its bite. There’s some especially incendiary playing in the song’s second half. “Sports Complex”, however, is the album’s guitar rave up to end all guitar rave ups and finds the three piece setting their instruments to take no prisoners mode. The frantic, uptempo musical attack puts a bold exclamation point on Downtown and stands out from everything preceding it. Joe Olnick and his band have turned another corner with their sixth release Downtown and show no signs of slowing down.