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Omar Coleman and Westside Soul

Omar Coleman & Westside Soul

3 on the B Records

Omar Coleman & Westside Soul CD

By Rex Bartholomew

Omar Coleman has been busy the past few years, with a plenty of gigs and a pair of very solid Delmark albums to this Chicago native’s credit: Born and Raised and Live at Rosa’s Lounge. He has not lost any of that momentum, and earlier this year he released a third disc that celebrates his West Side upbringing, Omar Coleman and Westside Soul. This project from 3 on the B Records is right in his wheelhouse, as it includes a funky collection of eleven classics and original Chicago blues songs, with the backing of his usual (and spectacular!) band.

Omar Coleman and Westside Soul took awhile to put together, with recording starting at Strobe Recording Studios back in 2015, and mastering being completed a year later. Omar brings his harp and soulful vocals to this project, and he is joined by Ari Seder on bass, Pete Galanis on guitar, Neal O’Hara on the keyboards, and Marty Binder behind the drum kit. These fellows are total professionals, and they are able to deliver a refreshing mix of 1970s-issue blues, soul and funk for the listeners’ pleasure.

The band starts their 50-minute set with “Sweet Little Woman,” an original that features Coleman’s hearty vocals over the funky backline of Seder and Binder (veteran of Buddy Guy & Junior Wells,  Albert Collins’ bands), with righteous keyboard work from O’Hara, including both Hammond and piano parts. Neal gets a brief piano solo, and Galanis’ guitar gets a turn in the spotlight too, making this a perfect introduction to the band. This song is about a girl that has everything a man could want, but it turns out she is married and her man is the jealous type. Balancing out this object of desire is “Rotten Old Lady,” about a woman who cannot control her gambling addiction. The subject of “Somebody’s There When I’m Not Home,” needs no further explanation.

But this album is not just about man/woman problems, and Omar puts his heart out there about how he feels about the plague of violence in his hometown with “Let the Babies Live.” This song starts out with almost a disco beat, but things get heavy quickly with Pete’s distorted guitar turning this into a hard hitting funk-rock tune that is a wonderful accompaniment to Coleman’s emotional vocals. It is hard to pick a favorite on this album, but this is definitely one of the two standout tracks. The other is the closer, “Whisper to a Moan,” which is a slow grinder with slickly arranged instruments and lyrics that vividly describe the need that some have for solitude.

These originals are all solid hits, but the covers are nothing to sniff at either. The band ramps up the speed on Ray Charles’ 1966 number one R&B hit, “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” which adds an edge that is not found in the original.  Omar leads the band through another number one hit (this time from the soul charts), “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone,” which was originally cut by Johnnie Taylor in 1970. None of the funk was lost in this translation, with Seder leading the way on his bass and O’Hara setting the mood with his Hammond. There is also a faithful version of Syl Johnson’s “I Let a Good Girl Go,” a 1973 rhythm and blues ballad that proves just how fine Coleman’s vocal chops are. 

If you are familiar with Omar’s catalog, you will find one repeat from Coleman’s Live at Rosa’s Lounge: Rufus Thomas’ “Give Me the Green Light.”  This funky Stax classic is always a crowd pleaser, but to be honest, the live version was so good that it would have been nearly impossible to outdo it, and this studio version falls a little bit short in comparison. However, if you have not heard the live version you would not know any better, and this is still a killer groove with amazing vocals and harp from Omar.

Omar Coleman and Westside Soul is one of the most enjoyable albums to come out of the Windy City this year, and Omar’s performance is approaching that of his influences Bobby Rush, Little Walter, Al Green and Junior Wells (among others). This release is tight with excellent arrangements, engineering and mixing, and bandleader Pete Galanis did an admirable job as producer for this disc. This disc would be an awesome holiday gift for any blues fans that you know, and would even make a nice present for yourself if you need a little pick-me-up. And be sure to check in every once in a while over at www.omarcoleman.com to see his gig schedule. He is currently on tour in South America, but will return home soon to play in Chicago’s blues clubs later this Fall.

CDs and downloads available on Amazon, cdbaby and record stores.

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