By TOM CHESEK
The last time redbankgreen looked in on Matt ORee, the Jersey Shore bluesical legend was feeling downright Reegal understandable, given that he had just been officially crowned the Guitarmageddon King of the Blues, by decree of a King named BB.
Presented on the stage of Chicago’s House of Blues, the June 2006 award was the climax to a showdown that saw O’Ree outblast a field of more than 4,000 aspiring axe-meisters and walk away with the shock-awed respect of the judges (a distinguished panel that also included John Mayer and Cheap Trick‘s Rick Neilsen). He drove off with prizes that included a new car, a stack of endorsement deals and a “year’s supply” of energy drink (probably more like two weeks, when you consider the lifestyle of an in-demand guitarslinger).
While there’s no denying that it’s good to be the king, no bluesman ever stayed on top of his game by ignoring the call of the open road. So it figures that the favorite son of Holmdel a multiple Azzie award winner who’s shared stages with such mindblowing note-benders as Buddy Guy, Robin Trower and Dickey Betts has continued to ply his trade out on that endlessly seductive ribbon of asphalt.
The road finds the Matt O’Ree Band making major concert appearances tonight and tomorow in Santiago, Chile, then hightailing it back to Red Bank for a long-awaited return to the completely refurbished Downtown club this Saturday, April 12. It’s a triumphal homecoming of sorts for the 36-year old performer, as well as a DVD/CD release Party that could only be characterized as an O’Reely Big Show.
Both O’Ree and the expanded Front Street nightspot have entered a new and exciting phase since thesinger-songwriter-fretsman last played the venue formerly known as the Downtown Cafe. Under co-owners Matt Wagman and Dan Lynch, the Downtown has doubled in size, brought in an acclaimed Manhattan chef and mixed a crowdpleasing cocktail that’s laced with a nightly dose of live music (see our exclusive first looks here and here).
For his April 12 gig, O’Ree returns to the site where he celebrated the release of his debut CD 88 Miles, ten years ago this month.
Recorded at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville last July and entitled simply Matt O’Ree Live, the new DVD/CD combo was produced by six-time Emmy winner Mike Pomarico and features O’Ree blazing through a set of songs from his three studio releases, backed by his longtime rhythm section of bassist Lance Taylor and drummer Bob Pantella.
For Saturday’s show, O’Ree and Taylor are joined by new skinsman Lew Rosengrant and keyboard player Eric Safka, making for a layered and multi-dimensional sound that evokes the later albums of O’Ree influence Stevie Ray Vaughan.
O’Ree and company return once more to the banks of the Navesink on the evening of May 30, as headliners of the 2008 Red Bank Jazz and Blues Festival in Marine Park. Plus, they’ll be rocking and roiling the waters of the Two River area during a Blues Cruise on June 26, aboard the double-deck riverboat Atlantic Highlands Princess.
Meantime, pre-orders for Matt O’Ree Live ($20 plus $3.99 shipping) are being welcomed at O’Ree’s website.