Just Jay (& His Sonic Sphere Of Acquaintance): STEPS (1971-2019)
Jay Graboski is likely known to most music fans as a member of the Baltimore eclectic progressive rock band OHO which formed all the way back in 1970. On this latest compilation titled STEPS (1971-2019) Graboski has handpicked his work from a number of bands including OHO, Lunar Merchant, El Sledge+, Food For Worms, Dark Side and many others.
With over twenty tracks and forty-four musicians, spanning forty-eight years you get a lot of variety here including eight OHO tracks beginning with “Bleeding the 5th”, a more recent effort from the band. It’s an interesting track showing the band’s heavier rock side with metallic riffs, solid lead vocals (with hints of Blue Oyster Cult) and mellower guitar breaks, ala Spanish acoustic guitar. Even after all these years OHO still proves to be a creative force. Next is the Grok track “Porcupine Time” complete with quirky musical changes and fine guitar work. On the El Sledge+ offering “Primal Scream” the music ventures from light to heavy shades, quite dramatic with an almost demonic vocal delivery. There are lots of twists and turns here, a truly progressive and adventurous track. “Penultimatum” is another OHO track featuring excellent female lead vocals and a general psychedelic feel. More excellent guitar work and the added horns is a nice bonus. “The Song” has a punk rock/new wave attitude that gets pretty intense while “Slag” is a more traditional ‘70s influenced hard rock tune with soulful lead vocals and a great groove.
That’s just a small sampling of what’s in store when you dive into this album, a fine overview of Graboski’s considerable talent and diverse influences. After all, there are over forty musicians credited, a network of talent spread across many genres. It’s well worth a listen for any music fan who wants something a little outside the box. Recommended.
-Reviewer: Jon Neudorf, Sea of Tranquility
OHO are younger than me… but not by much. So how come I’ve never heard of ‘em? Well maybe that Gazebo is the Baltimore outfit’s fourth album in 45 years goes a long way to explaining their somewhat underground nature. Sound wise they are anything but obscure, a shifting guest list of brass players and others augmenting what is in essence a bright, breezy pop sound that’s draped in something a little more intricate.The original trio with the surname initials O H O, may now be long gone - although Mark O’Connor does feature fleetingly as a guest - but there’s still a vintage feel to Gazebo, a record that naturally moves from pop to Americana and jazz to prog while still staying resolutely accessible. Long time singer Jay Graboski reminds, to these uninitiated ears, of Paul Heaton from The Beautiful South, in that he delivers smooth, easy but honest vocals that open a door into the music on display. That could be the dreamy “The One”, which feels like Bruce Hornsby jamming with Paul Simon, or the popping melancholy of “Ring In The Rightness” which sits proudly atop boldly strummed guitars and an 80s like chorus.Across the 18 tracks revealed, the keyboards and accordion of Ray Jozwiak helps build and maintain strong foundations, while the guitar from Graboski and drums (and much else) from David Reeve keeps things flowing from start to finish. In truth I could have done without the likes of the middle of the road meander of “Plunge” or the Neil Young with parping keys of “Bleeding The Fifth”, but then when you record so few albums across so many years, you are always going to have a plethora of tracks you want to get out there. Arguably, things could have been better in a more concise collection, as staying the course over a set of songs this lengthy can find things feeling a little over-similar.However, that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty highlights here, with the sharp turn of “Baltimore” and the jangle pop of “Out Of Thin Air” rewarding and revealing. I can see me revisiting Gazebo - an album for sitting in the sun and relaxing with, as much as it is for taking in the interesting lyrical content - although I might not do that from start to finish every time. But that, to be fair, isn’t an affliction particular to OHO.
-Reviewer: Steven Reid, Pitchfork.com
“OHO are a highly competent progressive band with hints of King Crimson, Yes, Grobschnitt...a very un-American sound—and like contemporaries Happy the Man, they are inventive, with accents on complex structures, unusual time changes, dynamics and exceptional interplay among the musicians. The music is so lively, hyperactive even, that it (Vitamin OHO) works really well as an album.”
-Audion #22, UK
Where Words Do Not Reach
Finally, clap like seals for the marvellous, palindromic OHO, misleadingly short-handed as “Baltimore’s answer to Pink Floyd,” and still out there doing stuff despite having released their debut album in ’74 and remaining under the radar for longer than a drone sub piloted by the Illuminati. Where Words Do Not Reach (The Instrumentals) ★★★★, OHO MUSIC CD) is a bracing compilation of performances recorded by a shifting OHO line-up over the course of their four-decade career, all undertaken with unquenchable brio. The Floyd comparison may allude to their occasional interludes of committed atonality (‘Snow Lady/I Crawled’, the back half of the 16-minute ‘Nazi Dog Jam’), but they’re a ﬁlthier, jazzier, poppier and thriftier proposition – sometimes like MX-80 Sound being strafed by The B-52s (‘Board Organ’), sometimes like King Crimson manhandling Jellyﬁsh (2010’s ‘Arclight’).
-Alan Smith, From Shindig #67
OHO - (Various Albums)
...Welcome to the palindrome, or, Oho in redux....I can't quite pin down the very first occasion I came across the name OHO. No doubt it was from a zine such as Trev Faull's "Outlet" or Jimmy and Byron's "Forced Exposure."... who can tell in those dark pre-internet times? But what I can state with some certainty is that the first Oho vinyl I scored by this obscurist Baltimoreian outfit was a lavish vinyl repro of "Vitamin Oho" issued by the sorely missed "Little Wing of refugees" imprint (pictured left), which was sold to me by one of 'the two Bills' at the again, sorely missed 'Plastic Passion' emporium, once of London's Notting Hill.For me, Oho seemed to share rack space with fellow countrymen The Rascal Reporters, The Muffins and even Ohioans Tin Huey - Canterbury's overseas branch, if you will. As an extra boost to their cred... they were hep enough to get a mention in George & Defoe's "International Discography of the New Wave" megatome, which suggests some kinda avant prog/post punk allignment type thing. For this career overview, I've decided to set out my stall on Oho-branded and Oho-related produce in chronological order. So... we open the curtains on an Oho-precursor called GROK; a sixtet who flickered on and off during the early seventies and shared somewhat incongruous billing with L.J. Baldrey, Dave Mason and a pre-fame Aerosmurf (!) Grok's sleeve-art is a fine piece of work, recalling 'The Galaxy Being" from American T.V.'s "Outer Limits" and while the contents of their sel-titled c.d. aren't quite aglow with unearthly kozmik energy (cue spooky theremin...), there's still a solid body of compact, hard rock flexing within, which comes allied to a number of unusual stylistic detours and some obtuse elements residing in the wordsmithery department. "Hopeless" and "Insanity" have some strident femme/male vocal trade-offs, c/o Bill Joy and Colette Kelly, while the instro scenery heads towards the heavier end of the spectrum, kinda like Serpent Power chaperoned by Blue Oyster Cult's Sandy Pearlman. As a p.o.i., engineering duties on thos tracks were overseen by the legendary Dick Kunc and if you're only a mild Zappophile, you'd know that name as well as your own. Witness also the mid-period Byrds-a-like "That she is you", replete with a banjo solo that'd elicit a grin from Roger McGuinn. The jokey Martin Mullesque "C.R.S." (Can't Remember Shit), is a soft shoe shuffle hymn to those senior moments, while "Keep the Changes Comin'" is jumpstarted by an irreverent snatch of that ole warhorse..."Smoke on the Water". The epic blow-out (coming in at 15.17), "The Lady and the Serpent" is a live recording from 1973 and alongside the obligatory drum solo, there's some splendid axe manipulation by one Dale German, whose playing, right through this collection, one minute stinging, the next lyrical is one hell of a discovery and certainly worthy of inclusion in the next set of Galactic Zoo Dossier "Guitar Gods" trading cards. It's a crying shame (how many times have you heard this?), that Grok didn't get a disc or two to their name during their brief time in the smaller spotlights. Nevertheless this career anthology, culled from sources various, consistently grabs the attention, decades later.And so emerging from the ashes of 'Gothic Progressives' Little Hans and purist bloozband Quinn (containing ex-Grok guitarist Jay Graboski), come the Ohomen! Their now highly collectable debut full lengther "Okinawa" was initially realized as a quadruple ten-inch set, packaged in a metal box (yah boo sucks Public Image!), on their own Oho imprint. Since then, 'Little Wing's" 1995 vinyl repro made a change in sleeve art concepts, coming topped and tailed in a fetching shade of shocking pink, redolent of sixties tiled bathrooms. The 'Rockadrome' cd edition ('under review') duplicates this colour scheme and increases the bulk with an extra sixteen cuts taken from sessions of a 1974 vintage. One of the first albums released independently by a U.S. band in the seventies, its super abrupt time changes, art-damaged babble, Mothers-like genre parodies and Broadway dadaisms sadly bombed on release. The good burghers of Baltimore and surrounding areas having their noses put out of joint by its avantist thrust and high level general weirdness quotient; with tracks like "Brown Algae is Attractive", "The Salient Sickle Sucker", and "A Frog for You" wearing a peculiar bouquet even to this very day. And check out lyrical poesie such as "Your douchebag is leaking on my ceiling and I don't like it. Almond clusters on my bedspread look like pygmies without their heads. All the hearts are in a pile. All the livers are full of bile." (from "Manic Detective"). So there goes local airplay too! And while the liner notes drop certain mentions of Canterburyesque/Brit prog moves, I think "Okinawa"'s nearest relatives (just over the brow of yonder hill in that tumbledown shack...) must surely be those other great genius misfits of the age; The Hampton Grease Band, whose debut double set, on a major label no less, corpsed too!!Shinning down the Oho family tree a little more, we find former Oho members Mark O'Connor (keyboards etc) and Jay Graboski embracing THE DARK SIDE; an outfit belonging to the first wave of U.S. garage band revivalists along with The Unclaimed, The Chesterfield Kings and The Lyres. Their prime directive... reupholstering the moves and attitood of the classic American sixties teenbands for the demands of the discerning eighties swinger. Their "Odd Fellows on an Even Day" c.d. anthology comprises the now rare as hen's dentures "Rumors in our own Time, Legends in our own Room" L.P. (on the Go Hog label), with various other bits'n'bobs extracted from e.p.s, Voxx comps and suchlike. The two things that separated them from their contemporaries? Of the twenty-six tracks on show, only one (count it!) is a cover version and secondly, that certain details within the garagage blueprint such as the adenoidenally-edged vocals aligned with blasts of angry wasp fuzztone are given a total heave-ho. Instead we have widescreen production values, manly guitar chordage, cheesy farfisa trills and David Johansen-styled motormouthery, from David Jarkovski, supported by Steve Simcoe's booting tenor sax (on "Good Boy" and "Can't get used to it"), operating in the same manner as the fabulous Buddy Bowser did on da Dolls' debut waxing. Other highpoints include the ornate harpsichord copperplate and Coral electric sitar (?) on "Bondage" and "Down the Tubes"; a classic mid-paced slice of teen angst that would've been an absolutely perfect fit for Del Shannon in his later years. Not a cuban heel or a bowl cut in sight!! Can such things be??Recorded from 1981 to 1984 and then mastered in 1999, FOOD FOR WORMS' "The Ultimate Diet" c.d. fully endorses that old adage that when punk met keyboards, new wave was born. With Jay Graboski, Mark O'Connor, bassist Paul Rieger and David Reeve (The Dark Side's producer and drummer respectively), on board, one gets the impression that they've set their sights on the quirkier end of the new wave movement that emerged from British shores, with early Ultravox, Barry Andrews-era XTC, the Yachts and the much neglected Punishment of Luxury springing to mind. Those herky/jerky rivvums captured in bright, eye-rubbing colours, combine with staccato vocals that ooze dry wit; studies in alienation and consumer parodies scooting by in a hectic, blink and you'll miss it way. In fact, of the twenty-six choons here, the longest cut "The Worm is the Word" (paraphrasing The Trashmen?) comes in at 4.34, while the gaudy rush that is "Neil's Stick", at just over a minute and a half, is shown the chequered flag before being completing the course. I will say that listening to this disc in its entirety, in one go, is a bit like being egged on to demolish a mountain of cream cakes - the appetite flags way too soon. I'd suggest a five a day regime instead. Oh, and if you thought that their "Mr. Twister" track refers to the legendary Iggy-like performer/vocalist who fronted Christopher Milk and Chainsaw, you'd be sadly barking up the wrong tree. Any tributes out there to that particular gent (m.i.a.?) are I guess, still at the drawing board stage...Matt Graboski ('son of Jay'), who guitarred on "Arclight" from "Where Words...) can also be found with powerful drummer Steve Sroka and his dad on bass duties, on EL SLEDGE (+)'s Their "Doom" c.d., after "The Baltimore Initiative" and "Fletcher's Last Night" releases is an unassuming looking package wrapped in plain brown card stock, (perhaps the non-promo copies get a plusher sleeve?). The accompanying post-it proclaiming "This is Heavy!" ...just about nails this particular beast in one fell swoop. Heavy in an early seventies kinda way, where a certain seam of hard rock is excavated, to which elements of prog and even jazz nuances are accommodated. Heavy metal fatigue need never be mentioned as this is a far more enticing prospect. Note the ascending riffs on "The Hour Glass", redolent (in parts),of a latter stage Crimso work out and the unpredictible twists 'n' turns written into a lion's share of the arrangements, (see "Primal Scream" and "The Eschaton"). Matt's vocals especially on the end times diorama "Golgotha" are a dramatic entity thankfully shorn of the histrionics seemingly employed by the hordes, thinking that 'oversinging' is an essential component of the genre. Not so. As "Doom" seems to be the last part of a trilogy (?)...what next fer th' Sledge (+)? Who knows, but they're certainly a name to retain in the brain...and before I forget...what's the story behind that bracketed 'plus sign'?Meanwhile, back with OHO, their "Where Words do not Reach - The Instrumentals" c.d. was composed/performed over a thirty-one year period from 1974 to 2015 and employs the services of a huge host of instrumentalists, two football teams worth in fact. In amongst the windchime-ists and those fine purveyors of the french horn and hammer dulcimer, familiar names like Jay Graboski, Mark O'Connor, Joseph O'Sullivan, Larry Bright (Oho's drummer), and Dark Siders David Reeve, Jeff Graboski and Pete Wulforst are found to be in attendance. Though I'd say for sure, that guitarist Joseph O'Connor really steals this particular show. And while he's more tastefully submerged within the workings of "Dog Lane", "House Party" and the jaunty, Hatfieldesque "Aubrey Circle Dance", he really makes his mark on a number of surprising departures from the Oho main drag. Check out the bee-yoo-tiful acoustic guitar showcases "Motion of Motion" and "Albumblatt" (both dating from 1976 and perfection for those Fahey and Bashophiles amongst us...) and the 16.45 mins of "Nazi Dog Jam"; a bluesy slab of heaviosity from the same year. Though it's surely a little too early timewise for that title to be a tip of the cap to Steven Leckie a.k.a. "Nazi Dog" of canuck punkers The Viletones...but then again...
-Steve Pescott, http://www.terrascope.co.uk/Reviews/Reviews_November_15.htm#Oho
Where Words Do Not Reach (The Instrumentals)
Baltimore based OHO has its roots going all the way back to 1970 but the band officially began in 1973. The original band members were Mark O'Connor, Steve Heck, Joe O'Sullivan, Jay Graboski and Larry Bright. What is really cool to see is how the band has been revived in recent years, certainly an exciting time in the OHO camp. Where Words Do Not Reach is their new album, an archival collection of their instrumental works dating back to 1975 and ending with a couple of new tunes. A word of warning; OHO will not be for everyone, especially if you stick more to the mainstream. For the more adventuresome listener there is a lot to appreciate here starting with the intense album opening "Board Organ" where furious drumming, off kilter keyboards and fiery guitar run amok in an all-out progressive psychedelic jam. "Nocturnal Recurrence" is another solid track and very heavy on the keyboards while "Albumblatt" is an excellent all acoustic guitar number with impressive fret work from O'Sullivan and serves as a nice reprieve from the previous chaos. "Motion of Motion" is another fine acoustic guitar piece followed by the much heavier "Snow Lady/I Crawled" where the band's eclecticism shows up in the form of wild keyboard sounds and a somewhat darker theme. The band continues its genre hopping with the pop inspired "Aubrey Circle Dance" and the feel good country grooves in Non-Sex Nonsense". The album ends with two new tracks, "Slough of Despond" and "Unique", both having a more refined sound with the latter featuring mostly piano and Gabroski's treated guitar chords. For those of you unfamiliar with OHO this might be a good place to start as it covers a wide range of styles and sounds, enhanced by the band's eclectic arrangements and tuneful songwriting. Fans of progressive/psychedelic rock should certainly find much to enjoy. Favourite tracks: "Nocturnal Recurrence", "Snow Lady/I Crawled and "Unique".
-Jon Neudorf, Sea of Tranquility
OHO ". . . reminds me of some old Frank Zappa and maybe some early prog-rock like YES. I like the fact that the music is diverse, randomly arranged, and inventive. Very cool. "
-Alex Armstrong (Facebook post of brother of actress, Bess Armstrong)
Where Words Do Not Reach
What can be said about Oho that hasn't been said already? Born in the mid-'70s as Baltimore's response to Pink Floyd (arriving a little late for the British Invasion), they fused psychedelic rock with the free jazz of progressive rock to create a very unique musical style. I came across the band accidentally a few years ago when my local record store had free download cards for the albums "Up" and "Bricolage," which showed the band extending their talents into the area of new wave, but I found myself very intrigued with the band's music. Lyrically, they come from somewhere that's way out of left field, and I often find myself scratching my head over where their lyrics even come from; however, musically, this band has a LOT of talent.The recordings range from the band's early material dating back to 1974 all the way through 2015 with several new songs recorded specifically for this release. Some of the songs sound as if they were recorded live, although that could be the result of recording in a less-than-stellar studio. After all, Oho was and has really always been an underground band, adhering very strongly to the DIY ethics of the '70s-era punkers. All-in-all, if you really enjoy instrumental albums and are interested in progressive rock, this is certainly an album you should add to your collection. While eccentric, Oho has released some rather excellent songs over their 40-plus year history, and many of them are collected here.Enjoy!"
--Kirk Gauthier, Facebook post
Where Words Do Not Reach
Have to hand it to Baltimore’s Oho, they are definitely one of the most eccentric bands in the annals of prog rock – take any two of their albums and they don’t even sound like the same band. Perhaps that’s due to a very fast evolution during their first few releases, starting with a psychedelic sound (onOkinawa) then quickly moving into a more progressive phase (Vitamin Oho) then continuing to evolve when players changed, members came in from side projects, and releases became more infrequent (although the band has continued to record over the years, many tracks remain unreleased), but through it all their output has been consistently top notch. Here we have an archive of the band’s instrumental material, 19 pieces total, spanning the years 1974 through 2015, featuring four different incarnations of the band, and as one might guess there are many different (and often divergent) styles featured herein. “Board Organ” opens the proceedings, a crazed seven-and-a-half minute romp through psychedelic electric jazz territory with a strong hint of Burnt Weeny era Zappa. It, along with the other first six cuts track the early-era Oho, including some from the never-released 1976 album Dream of the Ridiculous Band like the brilliant guitar acoustic guitar solos “Albumblatt” and “Motion of Motion.” Tracks 7-13 comprise the instrumental tracks for the aborted 1977 Oho House album, just before the band split up temporarily; those seven cuts are really all over the map – jubilant and celebratory, it’s clear the band was trying a lot of new and different things at that point, yet still nailing it every time. Following that we go back to 1976 again with the near 17-minute live stretch-out “Nazi Dog Jam,” a sure sign of the band’s psychedelic roots. The last five cuts here represent the more recent Oho instrumentals, from 1987 to present. Of these two tracks stand out as arguably this disc’s finest moments: 1990’s “Peradam” and 2010’s “Arclight,” twenty years apart, but both essentially guitar based pieces in new standard tuning, the former featuring hammer dulcimer, trumpet, and wordless female vocals, the latter with beautiful violin accompaniment. Two cuts from 2015 are featured – “Slough of Despond” is a brilliant merging of blues and jazz musings in a rock context, but completely original in every way. Where Words Do Not Reachclocks in at around 80 minutes; that’s a lot of music to absorb, but surely worth the effort.
-Peter Thelen, Expose - Published 2015-04-25
I was a little hesitant to tackle this disc. The first album from Oho was a bit weird for my tastes. Well, this one is just plain amazing! It’s a great blend of folk and progressive rock that at times calls to mind such acts as Yes, Renaissance and others. It’s actually one of the better discs I’ve heard in a while, and there have been a lot of great discs released in 2010. This has an accompanying DVD that includes interviews and live performances. . .
-Gary Hill Music Street Journal
Tough lyrical musings backed by challenging music" Bricolage presents a retrospective of work recorded by Baltimore progressive-rock group OHO from 1983 to 2007. It's quite an impressive run. Jay Graboski & David Reeve are equal members in an amalgam of guitars, 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 dense, technical and swirling progressive rock music bands that aren't afraid to tackle tough lyrical musings backed by challenging music. Throughout the years, OHO's kept a consistent sound and vision, as evident in both the 20-track CD and 12-track DVD. Although the quality of some of the video tracks is a bit rough, the music overall stands up to that of the pros of prog rock.
-Jeff Lindholm/Dirty Linen #141~May/June 2009