Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra Worth the Wait for Honest Folk

Honest Folk has been around for almost exactly two years, and they’ve been itching to book San Francisco’s Marty O’Reilly and the Soul Orchestra ever since. The dream became reality on Tuesday night at Good Luck, and it was well worth the wait.

More than midway through their show, lead vocalist and guitar slinger Marty O’Reilly apologized that they weren’t playing straightforward folk music. Of course, no apology was necessary.  The crowd had already been moved to multiple standing ovations and were visibly having a hard time containing their gyrations to the confines of their seats. No apology was necessary, regardless, because their music was their music and no one in the room was there to judge its purity. While the promoter’s name may be Honest Folk, the ‘folk’ could just as well refer to the people, not the genre. That is, the people who book the shows, the people who support the shows, the people who attend the shows and the people who play the shows, honest folk one and all.

And what about their music? Genre-less for sure. We know so far that it isn’t exactly folk. It’s also bluesy, but not the blues, soulful but not soul, and rocking but not rock. O’Reilly’s band mates, Chris Lynch on fiddle, Ben Berry on upright bass and Matt Goff on drums and percussion, aka the Old Soul Orchestra, are old souls pumping with new blood. The band’s origins stem from the blues which certainly shines through. But even in covering some traditional blues, like Muddy Waters’ “Smokestack Lightning” or Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor,” the lyrics are the same, but the music is rewrote to give them a freshness all their own.

The band is touring behind their recently released album Stereoscope, a labor of love that was years in the making, featuring songs conceived of from a cabin in picturesque Santa Cruz, California. O’Reilly’s emotional and weathered voice could evoke those landscapes on new ones like “Stereoscope,” “Ghost” and “Let the Wind In,” though they were being played on a drearily rainy and cold day in Rochester, New York. The cozy and dimly lit brick confines of Good Luck made for just as perfect a setting for the rich tapestries being constructed between the finger picked guitars and vibrantly ethereal fiddle. Goff’s drums, which meandered between intricately understated and invigoratingly punctuated, and Berry’s bass boomed and moaned at all the right junctures. They weren’t afraid to let the music take control of the band. The reins were loose and the tunes stretched their legs, arriving at some rather brilliant moments, delighting the band and audience alike.

The show finished, as most of these shows seem to these days, with the band leaving the stage to join the audience, unmic’ed. Chairs were pushed aside and space made for the four members to play from the floor, as they broke into a stirring rendition of “Cold Canary Gaslight” off of their Pray for Rain album. The audience got to join in on the music-making fun with a finishing singalong of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head.”

Hopefully it doesn’t take another two years to get these guys back to Rochester, but if it does, at least we know it’ll be worth the wait.