Bricolage

by OHO

Released 2008
OHO Music
Released 2008
OHO Music
2 disc Prog/folk-rock DVD/CD digipak: "The most striking aspect of BRICOLAGE is the sheer abundance of hook-laden melody, more than can be found on most albums regardless of genre. It's almost unfair to pick highlights, there are so many." -Progression
NOTES
06/01/08: Progressive folk rock outfit OHO releases their first CD/DVD since 2003's critically acclaimed "UP" CD. "Bricolage" is a 2 disc set: one 20 song 78+ minute music CD (13 brand spanking new songs and 7 bonus tracks, 3 of which have never before been released) accompanied by a 55+ minute DVD (12 videos interspersed with interview footage, a photo gallery, and a "special features" link where one can find the CD lyrics & credits as well as the DVD song lyrics) and all this in an imaginative digi-package (graphics and DVD post production by Bennett Davis) sporting the colorful illustrations of Baltimore-based artist, Connell P. Byrne, a chalk pastel by former OHO vocalist, Grace Hearn, and the photography of Jon Considine.

The DVD anthology documents the performance years of 1988-1992 with video footage of the band's appearance opening for Cheap Trick at the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood, CA, their Star Search audition video, the band's 1990 WAMA performance, 3 scripted promotional videos (w/upgraded audio), an intimate acoustic performance for the 2nd English Lutheran Day Care pre-schoolers, and 3 live selections from the band's Sky Records CD release party at the 8x10 Club in Baltimore, MD. DVD tracks are as follows:

1. Breaking Away
2. Til Death Do Us Part
3. Scared Money (http://YouTube.com/OHOmusic)
4. Out of Thin Air
5. Danger & Play (http://YouTube.com/OHOmusic)
6. Change in the Wind
7. Under Covers
8. Burning Grey
9. Controlled Substance
10. Angels
11. Limousine
12. The Secret

"Enigmatic Baltimore band OHO is back with this ambitious housecleaning of previously unreleased material from 1989-2005. The CD comprises 20 reworked/embellished tracks in the 3 to 5 minute range--all very melodic and featuring 7 different female singers who never met (!), yet can be heard harmonizing with and accompanying one another via the miracle of recording technology.

"The songs are alternately charming and exuberant, emphasizing acoustic textures bolstered by keyboards, electric guitars, sax, flute, violin, harmonica, mandolin etc. The most striking aspect of BRICOLAGE is the sheer abundance of hook-laden melody, more than can be found on most albums regardless of genre. It's almost unfair to pick highlights (there are so many), but I defy anyone to get 'Angels' out of their head after one listen.

"The 12-track DVD shares only 3 songs with the CD and is a treat, including live and video tracks from 1988-'92 heavily featuring singers Grace Hearn and Mary O'Connor. There's an MTV clip, and the closing rendition of 'The Secret' performed for school kids is precious as can be.

"15 1/2 out of a possible 16 stars."
-John Collinge (Progression)

"Baltimore based OHO doesn't put out a lot of product, but when they do, they do it right. This is hip, jangly folk-pop with a proggy feel; the compositions are superb, succinct and highly melodic, consisting of song-length ideas worked into intriguing arrangements in a number of styles--energized, jubilant and brilliant in many different ways. The vocalists are commanding and powerful; the instrumental arrangements employed are colorful and supportive, featuring violin, sax, horn sections, acoustic, steel and electric guitars, keys, drums and percussion, mandolins, tin whistle, flute, backing harmonies and more. Folky at the core, their sound rocks, clearly borne of modern vintage, fresh and vital, and not retro in any way. The DVD contains 12 songs--videos and live performances of songs, all but 4 culled from previously released discs, though often with different arrangements. In all, BRICOLAGE is a superb entry point and comes highly recommended."
-Pete Thelen, editor (Expose #36)

"Bricolage presents a retrospective of work recorded by Baltimore progressive-rock group OHO from 1983 to 2008. It's quite an impressive run. Even though Jay Graboski and David Reeve are the only constants, they're equal members in an amalgam of guitars, percussion, keyboards, saxes, violins, and more, with songs topped off by a revolving cast of forceful female vocalists. There's a lot to appreciate here for fans of the dense, technical, and swirling progressive rock music of bands such as Kansas, Rush, and others that aren't afraid to tackle tough lyrical musings backed by challenging music. Throughout the years, the band's kept a consistent sound and vision, as evident in the 20-track CD and the 12-track DVD. Overall OHO's music stands up to that of the pros of prog rock." -Jeffrey Lindholm (Dirty Linen #141)

Hanne Blank, Baltimore’s Grand Dame of erotica, once wryly commented, “Musicology only discovered feminism in, like 1986.” Coinciding with this discovery, give or take a year, Grace Hearn became the first in a succession of women vocalists who introduced themselves into the OHO musical theater. Feminism concerns itself with the daunting task of restructuring gender arrangements in order to achieve what has proven to be a tentative balance, a teetering on a fulcrum producing a motive that mystic Alan Watts called “the harmony of contained conflict.” This conflict is between the archetypal woman and the archetypal man, forces of the transpersonal psyche felt by us humans to belong to a different level of reality. The drama is as old as time and longer than sorrow but it is acted out by flesh and blood persons in the here and now.

This event heralded the beginning of an era that for OHO was often productive, lasted at least 16 years, crossed over the millennium marker into the 21st century, and at its apex (1989-90) appeared about to bring the band to the seemly threshold of success. OHO experienced their own microcosmic version of this gender reconstruction in the lives of its members, in the band’s live performances, and especially throughout the songwriting and recording processes. Please also keep in mind that, as Marvin Hamlisch said, “there’s a marriage between song and performer.” Even in the world of music we sometimes employ the language of relationship to intimate the vast range of the myriad connections, nuances and subtleties contained therein.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell used to tell the story of the ordeal of the “Perilous Bed” in order to illustrate the masculine experience of the feminine temperament. As a male is spinning this yarn, here might be a good place to begin, especially in light of the premise Ms. Blank proffered at the outset of our story.

Many never-before-experienced perils visit a knight lying upon a bed chambered in an enchanted castle. His test is merely to hold fast throughout. In the endgame, the knight lay broken and bloodied, thrown to the floor from a bed destroyed by the fierce violence of his ordeal. When things settle, ladies of the castle enter and lean over the candidate, one holding a small feather before his nostrils. If the feather flutters, the knight still breathes. His breathing signals his survival and so his passing of the test, disenchanting the castle and proving him to be worthy as an equal member in an engaging relationship with the female principle, with her boons and blessings.

As there can be no relationship with that which is totally “other,” there are fortunately, as Peter Gabriel posits (echoing Jung) in his “Blood of Eden,” “the man in the woman (animus), and the woman in the man (anima).” As challenging as the way of relationship can be in a unisex band, there is also some hope, and the promise of some very rich rewards should the candidate survive the above-described ordeal. Let’s “take a little trip back with father Tiresias,” crossing “between the poles,” where for him “there is no mystery”, and where “there is in fact more earth than sea.” (Tiresias, a blind seer of Thebes who was changed into a woman for several years and then changed back to a man.)

In January 1985 the OHO that had molted out of Food for Worms a year earlier had finally disintegrated, leaving only multi-instrumentalist David Reeve and me. I had these ideas to record a “solo” album and to invite as many of the musicians who had played with us in the past to contribute in some fashion. Perusing the credit list for the UP CD I can say that this intention was realized more successfully than then imagined. There were other contributors who are not listed, whose performances never made it to tape, but whose indulgence, suggestions and hunches provided a reliable matrix through which to filter our nascent ideas, thus adding significantly to the final product. They have our gratitude.

Ultimately we decided to carry on as OHO, believing that our opportunity to bring into play everything we had learned up to that point had finally come. From here on out OHO would no longer refer to the first initials of the last names of founding members O’Connor, Heck and O’Sullivan except as regards the OHO of 1974-77, the subsequent 1995-97 reunion version of that band, and their attendant body of work. Through attrition the trio had moved on, one by one.

The OHO of 1985 would not only be a metaphor for persistence, but the moniker would also function in its dual role as an interjection defined in The Oxford English Dictionary as an “exclamation expressing surprise, taunting, exultation; as in a shout to arouse a sleeper.” Why should we give up the notoriety we had earned from our previous exploits when we could use it as a foundation on which to build our musical future? We might also retain some level of connection to fans we had made thus far, rekindling their interest through name recognition. As drummer David Reeve told Maryland Musician in January 1989, “We’re just not going to let this thing die.”

The decision to retain the name, by the way, has proven fortunate for each of the four editions of OHO largely due to their being connected by the lynchpin of an unchanging core membership.

We began working at Steve Carr’s Hit & Run Recording in Rockville, MD (where we had recorded 1984’s Rocktronics) experimenting further with drum machines, sampling, synthesizers, and a hybrid electro-acoustic guitarism in search of our new sound. The music was lyrically progressive (moving forward in some way), especially as regards subject matter, our overall attitude of openness, and as far as our scope and the instrumentation we employed.

The songs often revealed what astrologist Rob Brezny called Mokita, “the crucial subtexts everyone is aware of but inclined to ignore, the unspoken mysteries that need to be named, and the illusions we can no longer afford to feed.” We tackled making the unconscious conscious through the incestuously erotic imagery of “It Will Not Be Late.” The ladies sing of diversity in “The Secret.” Threads of bliss, joy, hope, liberty and love are stitches holding the collection together. The songs somehow still entertain, even while urging the honing of discriminative faculties in order to say “yes,” the full and grateful response of the human heart to reality, as it is.

We were, however, determined to trim some of the excesses typically associated with the progressive genre to make room for our own. We intended to separate the wheat from the chaff, sowing the remaining kernels into a fertile “pop” cultural field. After decades of exposure to commercial radio, we believed certain structures were ingrained in the collective subconscious, and these might draw attention out through the chinks in one’s shock-absorbing emotional armor, rewarding a bold move with a well-crafted tune.

Our approach was also principle-based and intended an economy founded on a sober reckoning/stretching of our limitations, where “less is more” except in the rare situations when “less” was merely lacking. Why execute a 10-minute guitar solo, when the same effect can be generated in only 5 bars (especially if one’s “virtuosic” musical vocabulary would likely recycle into redundancy before the first 30 seconds had expired)? If the listener must have these 10 minutes, they can readily be found elsewhere. We were true to our roots, true to our respective natures, and true to our tastes. We should be able to say our piece in 3:30 or thereabouts, in accordance with the time tenet that generally governs radio play and the patterns of the hits of yore. These recordings inevitably reflect the era, its technology, the processes and the context in which they were made as well as the human contributions of all the players.

“It was definitely a studio band’s album,” stressed co-producer Steve Carr, “to record Jay’s songs and make them as good as possible on tape. So we did each song, one at a time, and we let each one develop on its own.”

We were also doing our own singing, but not to a qualitative level that generated any contagious enthusiasm either inside the band or from without. In earnest we went looking, listening for “the voice.”

Grace Hearn sang for a nightclub band, Rock Island, that also featured guitarist Carl Filipiak, who has since earned a modest yet respectable reputation in the jazz/fusion genre with his burning electric guitar riffage and critically acclaimed albums. Our friend Jeff Pivec, a drummer who moonlighted with Grace earning extra cash in various weekend wedding ensembles, encouraged me to check out one of her performances, which I eventually did in the early spring of 1985. I could not believe what I heard. Her voice caressed the words and the notes, and yielding in trusting resignation, they allowed themselves to be carried to their glory or to perdition, or to any destination in between that she willed. I gave her a cassette of “Change in the Wind” and “Ethiopia.” She agreed to listen and at a mutually convenient time we scheduled a session at Steve’s studio. She showed up.

Roommate Gina Kuta later told me that Grace had not bothered to listen to the tape I had given her. In fact she told me that Hearn was apprehensive to sing the songs (I guess so). Although I do not normally abide such laziness, this revelation makes her impromptu performances all the more awesome. The usual concerns about musical key signatures or questions about phrasing never came up. She whisked through both songs in just a few takes with minimal overdubs. She was in tune, in time, and had a convincing tone that communicated just how the lyrics are supposed to feel. Steve, David and I just looked at each other in amazement, and we began to conjure ways in which to lure her back into the studio, but as it turned out the music seemed reason enough for her return. Grace later told Chris Schaub from Maryland Musician, “I can really identify with the lyrics Jay writes. I believe in what we’re saying through our music. To me it’s different from any of the other new music around.”

Not that everyone enjoyed Grace’s singing, especially as regards her vocal interpretations of certain OHO songs. This was likely due to the vocal gymnastics the team urged her to perform rather than any inherent stridency in her voice. Only partially cognizant of her potential, we asked her to push her envelope, attempting to experience firsthand the full blast of her power. One can hear the level of control and finesse she exhibited even at the very limits of her incredible range.

Jane Brody (who sings three of the 19 songs on the OHO UP compilation and who ties with Grace in terms of who I believe has the best voice for our music) once told me that Grace’s voice was “water.” An apt metaphor, I think, what with its connotations of refreshment, clarity, coolness, and ironically even truthfulness, qualities that transform upon application of the requisite stimuli, eliciting a state of intoxication somewhat likened to the glowing effect one experiences when imbibing a vintage wine. (We advise listeners to direct a bit of their attention toward something outside their listening experience in order not to be completely swept away.) Conversely she could also scald you, be murky and scary, tepid, or even freeze you out if these were the interpretations certain songs called for. Marvin Hamlisch also once said, “The bes...