Tara O’Grady Brings Her Distinctive, Badass Swing to the Rockwood
Torchy chanteuse Tara O’Grady leads one of the most badass oldtime swing bands you’ll ever hear. One thing that distinguishes her from the legions of come-hither, moldy fig frontwomen is that O’Grady writes her own songs – when she’s at the top of her game, which she generally seems to be, they sound like classics from the 1930s. Which is especially cool since she originally hails not from, say, New Orleans or Kansas City but from Ireland. As you would expect, she occasionally takes a detour into lively Celtic sounds. Her latest album is A Celt in the Cotton Club, streaming at Spotify. She’s fronting a killer quartet with guitar genius Pete Kennedy (one half of the Kennedys) at the third stage at the Rockwood (enter around the corner on Orchard Street) at 7:30 PM on March 28; cover is $15 plus a $10 drink minimum.
O’Grady’s nuanced alto voice strikes a balance between goodnatured sass and serious trouble on the album’s opening track, On Feeling Blue – she leaves you woundering which you’re going to get from her, maybe both. This one is a duet with a hungover-sounding guy – she wants to get up and go with a macchiato, he wants chocolate and resists pulling himself of bed before noon. They sing it as a waltz and then hit a swing shuffle groove with a smoky, incisive tenor sax solo from Michael Hashim
The second track, You Won’t Get Me There Tonight is a kiss-off shuffle fueled by banjo and smoky tenor, Hashin doing triple duty on clarinet and bass clarinet as well – her guy can’t activate al her charms so she’s happy with a bottle of gin instead. A terse bossa-flavored cover of the old folk song Black Is the Color sets a melismatic, noirish tenor sol0 from Hashim – this band’s not-so-secret weapon – over the this-close-to-explosive shuffle groove of bassist Kelly Friesen and drummer Andrew Burns.
O’Grady casually celebrates raging against the dying of the light on the waltzing lullaby In Belfast Tonight, then picks up the pace with Go Lassie Go, which is the folk standard Wild Mountain Thyme done as lickety-split swing with another sizzling Hashim tenor solo. The oldschool soul/blues ballad To be Missing the Sun features a spot-on B.B. King-inspired guitar solo from Justin Poindexter.
O’Grady follows the carefree shuffle Love Me Madly Lashes with the creepy and historically rich That’s What the Miners Would Say, a noir blues that traces the trail of Irish immigrants who followed the seam of coal under the Atlantic all the way to these shores. She brings Bessie Smith into this century on the slow blues Where’s My Valentine: she sees a guy on a Vespa with a bottle of Chablis on Waverly Place and wonders, “Where is my box of truffles, still in Belgium I suppose…I just want someone to text me a love note on my goddamn Blackberry.”
The band goes back to a vintage 60s soul ballad groove on La Dee Da, then O’Grady goes more Celtic as the album winds up. The sultry Gardenia Girl namechecks a box set worth of Lady Day songs, imagining her as an Irish lass named Nora Fagan; O’Grady and the band close by transforming the folk song Too Ra Loo Ra into a warmly swaying vintage 60s soul ballad.