Rare is the opportunity of reinvention realized for any musician trying to keep his or her head above the torrential tides of trends, tastes and commercial afterthoughts. Still, pet projects get made, often sidelined, yet occasionally glimmering with hope and promise. Consider the case of Michael Olivieri, a man who cut his teeth in the 80s as the lead singer for Leatherwolf. Only recently has he shaken off the shackles of heavy metal to cut two records under his own name, 2009’s Goodbye Rain and 2011’s M.O.B. — short for the Michael Olivieri Band.
During an impromptu interview in 2009, I asked Olivieri what inspired him to make Goodbye Rain. He explained that after spending 25 years in Leatherwolf, he never got the chance to do what he does — which, if you listen to Goodbye Rain, is to throw caution to the naysayers and indulge in a myriad of musical styles. “It’s a record without a direction,” he told me. M.O.B. rolls with a similar attitude, assuming a steadier stance and better production value. What you get is an amalgamation of Americana, rife with elements of rock, soul, blues, country — and unbridled passion.
Indeed, there’s a pervasive theme of love, loss and triumph, delicately threading its way over the CD’s 11 songs. “More Than I Do” and “Letting Go” blaze a trail for Olivieri’s soulful growl, but it’s on “Dead Man Crawl,” a moody, stagnated piece driven by the steady hum of a Wurlitzer piano and harmonica, where the singer truly defines himself. Here, he convincingly breathes and sighs through the melody before passing the reigns over to harmonicist Eric Von Herzen and guitarists K.K. Martin and Buzzy James. Together, they slip and slide on the breaks, inherently proffering an intensifying dose of musicality missing from the current hit parade.
“Talk Me Down” is a whimsical jaunt with a skipping piano line that addresses failure in the aftermath of success. Eventually, heartbreak gives way to a new sense of purpose and fortitude. Olivieri willfully counts his blessings on “Halo,” “For Worse Or Better” and “Such As Life,” espouses a day-by-day approach on “Tuesday Down,” and embraces the notion of idling gracefully on ‘Old Souls.”
Rounded out by drummer Paul Wilson, bassist Tom Croucier and acoustic guitarist, keyboardist and back-up vocalist Dan Lucett, the band is brimming with talent and chemistry. All of which accounts for why M.O.B. is a refreshing reminder of how simple, effervescent tomes, in the right hands of the right players, will never fall out of style. For someone like Michael Olivieri, doing what he really wants to do outside of what he’s become known for, what else could be more gratifying?