It’s amazing what we don’t know about people. That old guy you passed on your way out of the grocery store? He could be a NASA scientist. The young couple who just moved in down the street? They could be highly decorated military heroes. The guy at the gas station filling his tank? He could be an internationally known guitarist who has opened for Van Halen and auditioned for the Black Crowes. Fanciful daydreams? Possibly, except in the final case that’s Joey Ortega and he really is a guitarist whose chops have been heard by people around the world. His latest album, Bad Habit, is packed with 14 new Joey O originals sure to make you smile. Brad Boxell (bass) and Vince Lutskus (drums) round out the power trio known as The Joey O. Band, forming a mighty rhythm section that is the perfect match for Joey’s melodic playing.
Bad Habit wastes no time with lightweight songs, immediately grabbing your attention with “I Can’t Help But Cry,” a mid-tempo rocker with strong ties to the classic rock sound of Journey. Ortega’s knack for crafting singable songs with one foot in the great tunes of the past shows up again in “Don’t Look Now” whose piano gives it a Steely Dan feel. “Still Dreaming” is Cheap Trick meets Boston, cheery but not sugary. The whole mess is topped off with one of Joey O.’s trademark guitar solos.
Speaking of solos, Joey O. effortlessly throws off solo after solo, placing them in just the right spots. They’re also just the right length, precariously balanced between soulful melodicism and technical wizardry and all drenched in his amazing Fender tone. It truly is a pleasure to hear this kind of controlled yet passionate playing. There’s no showboating to interfere. If it doesn’t make the song better then it doesn’t make the cut, and that makes for a great song.
The album’s three instrumentals deserve special mention. While “Born To Love You,” with its light bell tones and plucked guitars, is pleasant and enjoyable, it’s “For Donna” that really hits home. Opening with stark piano, Ortega reveals himself to be as adept at the keyboard as he is on the guitar. He romantically coaxes the keys until the full band enters with a simmering, slow rhythm and lots of heartfelt guitar soloing.
One final word of friendly warning: Be careful about listening to Bad Habit because its easy melodies, solid musicianship, great songs and astounding guitar playing could easily become habit forming. (Jason Hoffman)
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