Strings aren’t just set aside for Celtic or orchestral groups—they’ve found their way back into acoustic Americana on Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra’s debut studio album, Pray for Rain. A predominately strings-based trio, aside from occasional harmonica features, the group blends soulful Americana with shades of folk and blues to create a sound that’s often compared to artists like Tom Waits, The Black Keys and Ray Lamontagne. On Pray for Rain, Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra introduce their classic sound to a modern audience to transport them back to a simpler time with authentic string melodies in a variety of backdrops.
One of the early tracks on the album, “Cold Canary Gaslight,” was recently featured on WiFi PR Group’s Indie Anthems Vol. 9, the latest installment of the company’s independent artist digital mixtape collection, released at CMJ Music Marathon in October. The track features smooth, dreamy vocals, which Rosa Green of Savage Henry Magazine calls “simple and poetic,” as well as captivating harmonies spliced throughout. In the bridge, a velvety ﬁddle solo carries the song through before picking up the main melody and settling back into another rich string line. The band has a video for the track on YouTube.
While “Cold Canary Gaslight” might take a slower, soulful approach to string music, the next track, a rendition of Howlin Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” is indicative of their more fun and uptempo efforts on the album. The song kicks o! with a more laidback intro and ﬁrst verse where the bass, banjo and ﬁddle hand off bites of the melody, but as the verse progresses, the strings and vocals start to show early signs of a frenzy before cutting out completely and launching into an upbeat, bouncy bridge and verse. Eventually, the frenzy starts to peek out above the main melody as each instrument picks up on a chance to offer a little kinetic improv. By the last minute of the song, strings are strummed with a vengeance, and the vocals blaze above the noise before ending on a ﬁnal calm cadence. And if the listener hadn’t noticed—throughout all this, the song has no bridge.
As a whole, the album bebops between different tempos and emotions, but O’Reilly’s crooning vocals tie the entire album together as one cohesive effort. The strings are poignant and affecting, and the vocal harmonies are welcome additions to the overall Americana feel.
Listen to Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra’s Pray for Rain on Bandcamp.