Terry O'Hara is a wandering minstrel who found roots in Pittsburgh, joining the region's eclectic clan of singer/songwriters after drifting around the country.
The musician, who has lived in Pittsburgh for about ten years now, held a series of jobs during his journey, running the gamut from from dishwasher to street busker. He's more or less followed the Woody Guthrie tradition, hitting the road with his harmonica stuck in his back pocket, guitar strap slung tight and taking notes. And that trail less traveled defined the timbre of his musical being.
He told Scott Mervis of the Post Gazette "I've worked a variety of jobs that were somewhat marginalizing, and I think that's always benefitted my music. This might be one of the keys to making music or writing, in my opinion: to experience alienation and aloneness."
O'Hara has described himself as introspective and reflective, and those traits permeate his songs. His music, depending who you ask, has been described as mellow, downtempo or melancholy, and sometimes all three at once. It's definitively stuff perfectly tailored for drifting away in time and space.
His sound has been compared by various reviewers to Radiohead, Mojove 3, My Morning Jacket, Red House Painters and early Flaming Lips, but the two that stand out to O'Hara are Granddaddy and Sparklehorse.
"Sparklehorse and Granddaddy were bands that blew open the world for me. There was a melancholy feel to the music and lyrics that felt right," he said in the Mervis interview.
To Old Mon, the music is classical in arrangement, but crafted with the toolkit of an Americana roots artist - acoustic guitar, pedal steel, keys, kit and whatever else adds to the layers, forming a seamless matryoshka doll of sequestered sound. Like classical melodies, it's meant to make your senses fade into a reverie. So roll over, Beethoven...
His first Pittsburgh group was the short lived band Autumn Leaves, made up of O'Hara, Ian Peksa, who played drums, and multi-instrumentalist Ian Toole. (O'Hara says "I had never known an Ian in my life and found myself playing with two of them.") They'd meet in Peksa's Cheswick basement for their sessions.
The Autumn Leaves cut a demo and were featured on WPTS, Pitt's radio station, just before Peksa split to the Big Apple. That was the end of Autumn Leaves and the beginning of Summer-Winter.
O'Hara, with a stack of songs waiting for life, explained "I found a bunch of local friends and musicians to help play." The music sprang from paper to tape by their hand, and the result was the 2009 album "Alone is Yes."
Summer-Winter was more a tribal project than a band; thirteen players were listed on the album credits. O'Hara wrote all the songs and played eight instruments. Much of the recording was done at Mr. Small's, and the album is available through CD Baby.
The disc picked up some good press and a positive vibe from the cognoscenti. The cut "Tired" was featured on NPR’s "All Songs Considered" along with a strong write-up for the release. Music maven Scott Mervis gave the album some love in the Post Gazette, too.
The mood of "Alone Is Yes" was captured by Alex Cleary, the reviewer for Americana UK, who wrote Summer-Winter married "...two disparate emotional concepts: the disaffected tragedy of youth and the more perceptive melancholy of wisdom and experience. It feels like a lifetime of reflection has gone into this disc." It wasn't a dance record, but a groove for introspection.
Summer-Winter played a few shows, starting with their release party at Garfield Artworks, and O'Hara began working on his current album, "Bewildered." (available for digital download at http://summer-winter.bandcamp.com/releases) He again authored all the songs and had a lot of artists contribute. Mr. Small's was the main studio, and Larry Luther mixed and mastered the tracks, as he did for "Alone Is Yes."
"We tried to go with some different musicians this time around," O'Hara said. There were a dozen players on this effort, both local and New-York based. Like the last record, there's not a lot of early live support behind the album. According to O'Hara "We have yet to play a show and are working out the details on a release show for the late fall."
So stay tuned. When Terry gets his band together and on the circuit, stop by and catch the performance. Summer-Winter will lead you to a pensive corner of your mind that we think you'll like.