Johnny O'Neal - Live At Smalls

Johnny O'Neal - Live At Smalls

Pianist/singer Johnny O’Neal spent time as a Jazz Messenger and even played Art Tatum in the Ray Charles biopic, so you know the man can play. He’s recently held down a Sunday gig at the intimate West Village club Smalls, where this was recorded in a single night. No one will ever accuse him of sounding as refined as singers Andy Bey or Johnny Hartman, but his gruff tone and idiosyncratic delivery (think Mose Allison) is as endearing is as it is unique. Here, he leads his solid rhythm section of drummer Ned Goold and bassist Paul Sikivie through a set of sentimental ballads, gutbucket blues, and classic bebop. O’Neal kicks things off with a bang on the uptempo “The More I See You,” lets his fingers do the talking on “Where Is the Love/Overjoyed,” and brings it way down for a superb “I’ll Be Tired of You.” But he’s at his best here on a jumping take of “Blues for Sale,” which is simultaneously comical, conversational, and cautionary.

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