Joey O’s latest effort, 2013, is a solo album like no other. One of the most talented and accomplished musicians in the Fort Wayne area, Joey O wrote and arranged all the songs on 2013 and played all the instruments as well. It’s a true reflection of who Joey O is as a musician today. 2013 is a virtual course in guitar songwriting technique. Though mostly known as a blues guitarist, Joey O leans more toward a blues/rock feel for the nine tracks of 2013, much more in the vein of The Rolling Stones or Gary Moore than B.B. King or Buddy Guy. The songs on 2013 are all instrumentals, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a singer. Joey O’s guitar takes over as lead vocalist and does a mighty fine job on all tracks. As Mr. Ortega rips through tracks like the sunny “Ecstasy” and the Eric Johnson-esque “Jellybean,” he shows off his ability to play with the best of them while not compromising the songs with a bunch of show-off shredding that doesn’t fit the song. Certainly Joey O is capable of playing a few thousand notes a second if he wants to, but he knows he doesn’t have to, and the album is better because of it. Instead, Joey O opts to show off restraint and maturity in his songwriting, letting the song dictate the soloing and the groove. To prove the point, listen to “Close Your Eyes,” the best track on the album. You won’t necessarily be wowed by the insane playing; instead, you will be wowed by Joey O’s knack for playing the perfect notes at the perfect times and phrasing them in such a way as to leave you discovering new things upon each repeat listen. That distinction is what elevates this album from a good album to a great album.
In addition to “Close Your Eyes,” standout tracks include “For My Baby,” which mixes The Beatles-style melody with an enticing traditional blues feel, and “DeKalb County Blues,” which brings to mind the playing of Great White’s Mark Kendall, an under-appreciated blues/rock guitarist in his own right.
Undoubtedly, Joey O is one of the Fort’s hidden treasures, and 2013 shows him at his best. A gifted musician, songwriter and performer, Joey O can do it all, and on this album he does. Though a little too brief in length, this album is one of the best local releases of the year and is truly worth seeking out.