For the next however long it takes for me to write this, I have the unenviable task of trying to describe the ethereal – to put into words musical moods that eschew a label. The last hour has found me trying to formulate the sentences only to be stymied by the impossibility of what lies ahead. How does one put into words the soundtrack of a dream? It may be one of the greatest of fool’s errands and now I am that fool. But that is the kind of music that Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra make.
It is music you’ve never heard before, music you can’t compare to anything, music that is its own genre that has only been defined, in sound, by those who play it. Over the arc of three full-length records, there are songs about cambium, songs about cannabilism, political disagreement, a three-legged dog, a canary in a coal mine, and mass suicide. There are also songs about love and deep caring, songs about family, and snapshots of lush landscapes – rich and vivid in beautiful detail. Wait, did I just do it?
Toward the end of 2021, Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra released their third record Signal Fires to a world in the grips of a pandemic. The band wrestled with a release date, knowing that the world’s attention was, at best, distracted. But the album was mastered, in the can and they wanted it born no matter how it might be received. And so it was released to us with a “damn the torpedoes” mindset. They played shows up and down the west coast in support of their new record over a short release tour. The album, true to the band’s form, is unlike its predecessors.
Where their last record Stereoscope was a deep dive into dense sounds and textures even new to the band at the time, Signal Fires is a bit more accessible. It leaves room to breathe with some singles that even border on touches of pop. The title track is written from the heart and speaks to the love between two people in the deepest of connection. The next track “Sleeptalking” will have you tapping your feet and wanting to drive down a pretty road in the electric green of new spring growth. As in past records, however, that beauty is balanced with darkness and perhaps the heaviest single of the album is “Jonestown”. Here is a song that compares the madness of the Jim Jones’ Guyana debacle with the fallacy of contemporary Trump-era America. It is angry, bewildered, and calls out our nation for what it is right now – divided and mad with distrust and disbelief. Signal Fires should find itself on every music lover’s radar. I dare you to try to find some musical comparison and then delight in the fact that you weren’t able to succeed.
But that was 2021 and now we’re in a new year and this band is never complacent. This band always pushes forward into new projects. But as they push forward, they do so thoughtfully and artfully. On tap now is a series of videos that the band recorded in Sonoma, California’s Sebastiani Theater and the idea was born out of practice sessions the band held on the Sebastiani stage, a place that Marty knows well and a place in which some of his most formative performances were held many years ago.
Says O’Reilly, “ . . . I grew up in the town of Sonoma, 45 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I moved back here in May, and downtown there’s a wonderful very historic theater called the Sebastiani Theater. It was a huge part of my childhood. I went to a performing arts camp there. I was in a dozen theater productions there from ages 7 to 17. Before I moved away to college I did my very first album release show here and sold it out. Since I moved back, the folks at the Sebastiani Theater have very graciously let the guys and I rehearse on the stage during the day a few times. We loved the vibe, so we shot some video to share with you all!”
The first live video single, “Cocoon”, from the band’s 2014 release Pray for Rain is due out today (below). The video opens on a softly lit stage with Ben Berry’s stand-up bass driving the song’s initially slow pace that coaxes a contemplative mood. Everything begins gently and the song takes shape with Chris Lynch’s fiddle work as he ultimately deconstructs the first part and allows Matt Goff’s hand drumming to pick up the rhythm as Lynch’s fiddle soars in characteristically incongruous chords that punctuate the emotion. Marty’s rasped vocals ache over the top of everything and the band is suddenly afire. This is the essence of Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra’s live performance. This is not a dance number. This is one of the songs that consistently finds the band’s audience transfixed by the masterful musicianship of its players.