John O'Leary is one of the pioneers of the art of the blues harp in the UK. Originally from Ireland, John's family was part of the massive migration to England in the aftermath of World War 2. In London's thriving jazz clubs of the 1960's he first heard blues harp player Cyril Davies with Alexis Korner's Blues Inc. John bought his first instrument in 1962 and learned to play by listening and watching Davies. Inevitably, he discovered the great masters of the blues harmonica; Sonny Boy Williamson No.1, Sonny Terry, Little Walter, Noah Lewis, James Cotton, Shakey Horton and Junior Wells. John's career has seen his involvement with numerous bands and musicians over four decades. Beginning in 1965 with Savoy Brown's Blues Band through to the present day John O'Leary & Sugarkane, John has continued to maintain a prominent position on the British and European blues scene.
The piano music of English composer John Ireland is as richly imagined and fully realized a body of piano music as any written after Debussy. From the impressionism of the early works like Decorations through the neo-classical formalism of mature works like the Piano Sonata to the flirtation with atonality in late works like Sarnia – An Island Sequence, Ireland's piano music stands as high in his output as his much better known orchestral works. In these three recordings from 1975, 1977, and 1978 by Eric Parkin, Ireland's piano music is given performances that consistently do the works full justice.
John Hammond's latest album marks a major departure in one respect – for the first time in anyone's memory, he sings, but plays nothing on one of his records, while Little Charlie & the Nightcats, led by guitarist Charlie Baty, handle the guitars and everything else. The difference is very subtle, the playing maybe a little less flashy than Hammond's already restrained work – think of how good Muddy Waters sounded on the early-'60s records where he sang and didn't play. And that comparison is an apt one – even more than 35 years after he started, Hammond inevitably ends up sounding like its 1961 and he's working at Chess studios in Chicago, cutting songs between Muddy Waters sessions. Harpist Rick Estrin also contributes a smooth and eminently enjoyable original amid a brace of covers of blues standards. There is not a weak number here, and this band is a kick to listen to, sounding more naturally authentic than anybody in the 1990's has a right to (Baty's quiet pyrotechnics on "Lookin' for Trouble" would make this record worth owning, even if Hammond's singing and the rest of the songs weren't as good as they are).