I've had the pleasure of seeing James O'Malley perform live for the past several years. At first I'd see him at open mics, playing a song or two in a quiet almost shy style. The songs always caught my attention. They are narrative and personal, from the point of view of someone my age (old enough to have grown children!). The songs about his childhood rang so true that I found myself looking closely at him and searching my memory for kids named O'Malley. I greeted his first album, I'm Ready", like an old friend, having heard many of the songs at various local venues. Shortly after September 11, 2001, James revised the album, adding There’s No Place That I’d Rather Be, a poignant tribute to the rescue workers at the World Trade Towers.
It seemed like every time O'Malley played after releasing I'm Ready, he would have a memorable new song to go along with the favorites. Those new songs now make up his extraordinary second album, If Only In My Dreams. More than ever O'Malley's voice and guitar playing reminds me of Paul Simon's early solo work. The accompaniment features no percussion but rather light brushes of harmonica, accordion, concertina and bass. The first song, Who's That Singin', features some dazzlingly cheerful guitar work. O'Malley sets the tone of sweetness and plausible optimism as he sings "Who's that moving in my mirror/ and dancing in my feet." "Rest" is a song that everyone I know can relate to. "I've been worried about you, baby,/ You've been working too hard...I can see it in your eyes at the end of the day/ You're much too tired for somebody your age." I like his solution - taking a sick day, "I can call in for you; you can call in for me." A Little Room To Breathe gives insight into the source of O'Malley's positive outlook. It's a history of love, marriage, parenthood in a too-small apartment and children who made it despite having some "troubles that we never had." Given the perspective of enough years to raise a family, life boils down to the last lines of the song, "Over time we'd see all we'd ever need was our love/ And a little room to breathe."
Living Here In June is the speculation of a baby waiting to be born, "I think I may I think I might/ Be living here in June." Leave it to a great songwriter (or grandpa?) to have such a fresh perspective. The rest of the songs on this fine album will leave you smiling or nodding to the blues or laughing out loud in self-recognition. Let's Get This Show On the Road is a crowd pleaser of the latter category as an impatient husband urges his wife to stop fussing about what clothes she's wearing to the blues club.
James O'Malley has said that he is ready to take his music to a wider audience. This is a long process of networking, touring and being ready for the breaks if they ever come. O'Malley's style and songs are uniquely suited to grab and hold the attention of the baby boomers (if they only get the chance to hear it). It can't hurt that he'll be making the rounds with this classic album in his hands.
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