Matt O’Ree has had quite a successful ride so far. Going back to his 1998 album, 88 Miles, O’Ree has made substantial strides in his ongoing musical journey through rock and roll, blues and more. 88 Miles was so well received by national media that it secured him opening slots for such notables as Blue Oyster Cult, Blues Traveler, and Marshall Tucker Band.
But O’Ree was far from finished. His 2005 release, Shelf Life, saw him take at least four Asbury Music Awards for “Best Blues Band,” “Best Guitarist,” “Best Local Release,” and “Best Song of the Year.” That successful record also led to another tribute when Matt won Guitarmageddon’s “King of the Blues” guitar contest. Hosted by B.B. King and John Mayer, Guitarmageddon pulled O’Ree from a pool of over 4,000 guitarists to win him the final title.
It was a highlight for Matt, and he said of the win, “It was one of those moments when after all those years of slugging it out, I felt like I finally got someplace,” O’Ree said of Guitarmageddon. “It was a great moment. It was like, wow, I finally accomplished something. Getting to meet B.B. King was fantastic!” But that wasn’t the end as Matt, a guitarist that owns many beautiful instruments, also received a Gibson endorsement for Les Pauls. Les Pauls are Matt’s instrument of choice and a fitting team up for his sound.
But once again, these accomplishments wouldn’t be the last for Matt. O’Ree went on to record and tour, racking up local and national achievements until the second half of 2015 when he began touring stadiums with Bon Jovi, a natural fit given O’Ree’s now solid history with founding Bon Jovi member, keyboardist David Bryan. Bryan appears at gigs regularly to jam with the O’Ree Band.
Matt says in his release, “One Friday night at Jamian’s in Red Bank back in 2012 a former guitar student of mine—Brad Batcha—walked in, followed by David and Lexi Bryan and company. I hadn’t seen Brad in quite some time. Anxious to talk to him, he introduced me to David. I had previously met David at a wedding and remembered how humble he was. So, without hesitating, I asked David to come up and play. From the first note we played together, I just knew that we were going to be great friends. Music has an unbelievable power to bring strangers together forever,” says O’Ree on his first gig with Bryan.
And I’m fairly confident that David Bryan had more than a little influence in choosing Matt to join the tour. But that relationship has continued right up till the present with Matt O’Ree’s brand new release, Brotherhood. Together, they co-wrote the single “My Everything Is You.” The song, produced by Bryan, is featured on the new album.
“Matt is a great talent and friend. It was my pleasure to write and play on the record and support Matt and his band in every way,” says Bryan.
Released on November 23 at The Stone Pony, Brotherhood has a few other influential artists on it as well. Bruce Springsteen himself sings on “Black Boots.” This track co-penned by O’Ree and Jon Leidersdorff of the Lakehouse Recording Studio in Asbury Park features Springsteen on co-lead vocals and guitar. Insiders are calling it a powerful Springsteen performance with a ripping guitar solo. Springsteen is calling it “sexy, dirty rock and roll.”
Brotherhood also features an appearance from Stax Records legend Steve Cropper. And while I don’t have the inside story on how O’Ree got him involved, as one of my favorite six-string slingers, I’m euphoric to hear Cropper on a local Jersey release. Bruce Buchanan produced 10 of the 12 tracks on the record (he has worked with everybody from Jimmy Page to Dionne Warwick) and he masterfully revives that early ‘70s rock feel, recording in analog and using techniques similar to those made famous by artists such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. He even encourages an O’Ree blues-based, old-soul jam session upwards of 10 minutes and then manages to master it down to a charged-up, ignited album-friendly 4-5-minute track.
Matt O’Ree’s band is also featured on the record and includes Scott Bennert on bass and John Hummel on drums, complemented by Eryn Shewell and Layonne Holmes on vocals. So I took a listen to the tracks, and this is what I came up with.
Up first is the much talked about “Black Boots.” This is rock and roll music that I remember from my youth; hard hitting, filled with outrageous guitar riffage and addictive choruses for days and days. It’s interesting to hear Springsteen singing what I definitely would consider a harder rock music than he usually sings. Together with O’Ree’s raw and bluesy vocal attack, Bruce sounds perfect for this track. The Boss’ guitar work is also featured and sounds like a perfect match for O’Ree’s seasoned tone. I can tell that a lot of thought went into the pre-production of “Black Boots” as the compositional directive works like a charm. John Hummel’s drum work pounds this track right into the tarmac as O’Ree rips his melodic direction of pentatonic fury. The fact that Springsteen performs on the track is icing on an already sweet cake. This is rock and roll the way they did it in the late ’70s; hard, heavy and melodic as hell. I’m sure this song will do well on radio.
The next song is the co-write of Bryan and O’Ree called “My Everything Is You.” This is base line rock and roll music at its finest. Guitars scorch as bass, drums and keyboards tear through the middle of the song. The song bounces and crouches as it launches into its bluesy direction. The chorus is simple and efficient as the group tears into your musical membrane. The boys have done well with this song, and it stays in your head for days on end. Matt flips some impressive six-string work here as well. Bryan’s assist is well noted here as well, and I think they’re going to have some great response to this song. David Bryan also produced this song to great effect. This is real deal rock music.
Moving around the disc, I came to a song called “It’s Gonna Be All Right.” O’Ree mixes old school rock royalty with Gary Moore-styled expressionism, and it works like gangbusters. Infectious verse work blends into well-placed riffs and bridges before he hits a fantastic chorus. When Matt solos in the middle-eight, it is simple, effective guitar work that sinks back into the mix as the chorus returns. And while O’Ree does his fair share of soloing on this disc, nothing is wasted. The song goes out on the same great riff as it comes in on.
Another outstanding tune is “Leave Your Light On.” Blues-based, mid-tempo and close to ballad status as you can get, this song features an excellent vocal performance by O’Ree as well as the able assist of Eryn Shewell and Layonne Holmes on backing vocals. Pianos start things off with big round chords, setting things up and starting the band off like something out of the James Gang. Matt paces himself well, building vocals and instrumentation slowly, emoting and pouring everything he has into lyrical communications before organs kick into the mix. His tone is also quite admirable here as well. This is more than just blues rock thrashing, and his vocal work pays off in spades. It also reminds me of old Huey Lewis in his vocal presentation. I like how he allows the middle-eight to breathe through the keys instead of going right for a blistering salvo of noted scales. When his guitar finally snarls its way into the perfectly positioned back end, it’s brilliant and played with a ferocity seldom seen before getting out of the way of the songs message.
Another fantastic song is “Saints And Sinners.” With riffage for days, O’Ree tears into this beast with the emotional passion of a young Billy Gibbons. Bass work, courtesy of Scott Bennert, is solid and works in perfect conjunction with Hummel’s dynamic skin work. Eryn and Layonne take care of the backing vocals like nobody’s business. Matt comes into main play at around 2:41 and his Les Paul does true justice to the piece before moving back to the vocal performance. He also lays down some tasty slide work throughout.
“Awkward Silence” is up next and shows Matt’s acoustic guitar work at its finest. Fingerpicking style blows through the song as Matt reminiscences about the past relationships of his life. His quick lead breaks are melodic and straightforward, and they work extremely well for this song. I particularly love the background vocal work of Eryn and Layonne here. Bass and drums remain minimal, building to that final burst of exploding guitar work before Matt returns to the theme and finishes things with the song’s addictive chorus.
There are 12 tracks on Brotherhood and while I didn’t have space to hit every one of them, I would recommend grabbing this disc as soon as possible. Rock star treatment aside, Matt has come up with an excellent record that has tons and tons of listenable, well-written rock music on it. The fact that it also includes several well-known friends is the bonus that will sell this and that’s what this is all about. If you crave real rock and you are tired of the typical postmodern sounds of Americana and fake punk rock, give Brotherhood a spin, I know you won’t be disappointed.
If you want to catch Matt and band live, head over to the Wonder Bar on Dec. 23 for a show I can guarantee will blow you away.