The Joe Olnick Band - Downtown (2017)

Written by Larry Robertson, posted by blog admin

Coming at you like a bat out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Joel Olnick Band is a power trio led by the namesake guitarist himself.  They’ve been working the scene for a very long time and Downtown is the 6th album in a sprawling discography that’s been steadily building for several years.  The band is prolific and that’s always great to see when too many bands, projects and artists will get off to a promising start but then somehow not getting enough time to show their full-potential musically.  Thankfully, these cats have been able to stick together and cultivate a unique sound. 

With the angular, hallucinatory tempo-shifting and electric guitar razzle dazzle happening here it’s clear from the get-go that this is some forward-thinking instrumental stuff.  Olnick’s original compositions have been compared to everybody from Miles Davis to Pink Floyd and the more you listen to the album you can see why people are coming up with these possible influences to the music heard on this latest LP-length smorgasbord.  The title track runs a ghostly synthesizer moan behind a lush drum n’ bass groove and Olnick’s free-form, wah-drenched electric guitar insanity to shade in the vibrant palette with a psychedelic grind house vibe…  It’s progressive stuff for certain and Joe wrings his instrument for all its worth in the tradition of some of the most dangerous 60s guitar heroes.  “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part One)” inflects a southern, bluesy twang into its cross-pollinated psyche/surf guitar licks that unfold in endless dreamy swirls while a smooth funk rhythm maintains form beneath Joe’s cosmic signals.

As the album enters what almost feels like a second distinct movement a trio of increasingly experimental and exotic numbers appear to shake-up listeners who are looking for safe music.  “Food Truck” relishes the band’s primary funk influences but the rhythm section sneaks in a sleazier, shadier groove that kisses the music with a subtle menace even when Olnick’s swinging guitar shred is at its most expressive and uplifting.  Though not indicated in the album information, the pairing of “Parkside” and “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part Two)” feels deliberate.  This duo is marked by strange, almost harrowing synths, contemplative rhythms that brood on some singular ideas before the music wildly thrusts itself into the next passage and freaky deaky guitar licks and twiddle-y drones.  “Rush Hour” likens itself to the opener “Downtown” and is another return of hip-shaking d & b action with frenetic guitar figures covering every inch of the rhythm section with a rich blanket of sound.  This delegates album ender “Sports Complex” to sound like some kind of weird blend of Hawkwind, Motorhead and a punk band…only without vocals and more towards the psychedelia of Hawkwind. 

Downtown is the type of album that once it bites you, it never lets go.  That’s what happened to me when I was listening to it.  I had to see how each track fit in with the next.  It’s psychedelic, moody, fun, unsettling, unusual, traditional and much, much more.  Thanks to the tightness of the rhythm section and Joe Olnick’s signature guitar sizzle and complicated yet tuneful songwriting there’s a lot of reason to keep coming back to Downtown.