Oyo “Another Round”

Independent, 2023

An enjoyable set of old-time country songs – with a sting in the tail.

Just over a year ago, our colleague, Mark Nenadic, reviewed Oyo’s debut album and hailed it as “good, full-hearted (obscure) roots music spun from the hills and valleys of Ohio”, now this eclectic band are back with their second album, appropriately called “Another Round” and would seem to have adopted an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it approach” as they serve up another collection of original, old-time country songs.

The album gets underway with the appropriately titled ‘Wheels Up’, a song all about the often dubious joys of flying, moving on and finding new places. It’s pitched somewhere between an old-time country song and bluegrass, as are a few of the tracks here, and it has some lovely playing on it, especially from Aaron Martin on mandolin. It’s a good opener to the album, bright and jaunty and easy to listen to. It’s an approach that suits this album well and reflects the band’s philosophy of delivering their music in the style of a porch jam session.

As was covered in Mark’s review, Oyo take their name from the Iroquois word for the Ohio River, Oh-yo, meaning ‘beautiful river’, and the band consists of Cole Adair on guitar and vocals; Michael Bond on keys, vocals, and harmonica; Aaron Martin on fiddle, mandolin, vocals, and guitar, Bobby Rosenstock on banjo, Joe Ryckebosch on drums; and Drew Tanner on bass and background vocals. They make a quite glorious noise on the tracks on this album and they’re exactly the sort of band you want to stumble across if you find yourself in a local barroom pretty much anywhere. They’re a quintessentially good-time band, as evidenced by second track ‘Queen Bed’“Friday night, went out on the town, drank all the beer that we could hold, and stumbled all the way back home”. A number of the tracks on the album have a sing-along, drinking song vibe, like the call and response of ‘Leave Me Alone’ and the life on the road song ‘Old Buck Moon’. Other songs, like ‘Gonna Make a Fool Out of Me’ and ‘Cheat River Girl’ are honky-tonk, tears in your beers songs about the women who steal your hearts and then leave you flat. ‘Love Won’t Wait’, is a quite superb piece of classic country, beautifully driven by a great pedal steel sound – there’s a predictability around many of these songs that some might find a little trite, but it’s hard not to like Oyo, even when they’re leading you on in this way. There’s a real infectious quality to their songs, which are often lyrically straight out of Nashville central casting but are so well played that you just have to go along with them. It’s worth mentioning that the guest pedal steel player is John Borchard because he does such a good job on these songs, but all the players throughout the album are on top form, both the band and their guests, who include Jesse Milnes on fiddle, Sam Lamont on background vocals and guitar, Andy Ray on percussion, and Emily Miller and Adam Remnant on background vocals.

The majority of this album is, initially, very listenable, without ever grabbing you in any major way. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve got nine very good songs, very well played and then, just as you think you can pack this album away in the ‘good, but we’ve heard it all before’ category, Oyo hit you with the album closer and it’s quite remarkable. ‘New Year’s Day’ comes completely out of left field and astounds you with its changes of tempo and mood. It is, effectively, a suite in itself, a really interesting and clever rumination on the need to confront demons, make changes, stay positive – it’s an excellent song and suddenly, the rest of the album all drops into place and you see it, not as a collection of good but fairly predictable country songs, but as a sort of concept album, built around a life on the move and the compromises that requires, especially in relationships.

It really is a clever album – but you don’t realise this until that final song and Oyo have taken quite a risk in recording this album in the way they have because, until you get to that final song, the album is good but not particularly special. ‘New Year’s Day’ makes a very big difference and you have to applaud the ambition and the nerve to work in this way. Once you reach the end of this album and hear that closer you have to go back and listen to the whole album again and your perceptions of the songs shift considerably. It’s like watching a movie a second time, now that you know the denouement, and seeing all the strands that weave together along the way. Great storytelling from a good-time country band who are clearly more than just a good-time country band.

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About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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