Oho - 2022 - Ahora!
(36:16; Oho Music)
1. Part 1 12:31
2. Part 2 14:09
3. Part 3 9:36
David Reeve - drums, vocals, keyboards
Ray Jozwiak - keyboards, accordion
Jay Graboski - vocals, guitars
Bill Pratt - vocals, keyboards
David Hughes - bass
Sue Tice - violin
Ty Ford - narration
US band Oho is something of an underground institution in the US music scene, with a history that goes back more than 50 years and with a discography that is a bit scattered in place and time throughout the decades. Their ninth and most recent studio production is called "Ahora!" and was self released in the summer of 2022.
While I have seen Oho described in a few different manners over the years, as well as the albums I have encountered by them myself also being rather different in nature, on this specific occasion there is one undeniable aspect that dominated the proceedings. This production places itself straight into the heartland of the folk music corner of the progressive rock universe.
A bit unusual for this variety of progressive rock is that it would appear that roots music is at the hart of the compositions here. US roots music that is, or Americana if that is a description you would prefer. The wandering acoustic guitar as well as the violin inclusions all hone in on tones and timbres that point back to the the folk music traditions of the US, and in this case they are used and explored in a vibrant and expressive manner too. Those afraid of Nashville cliches and country music idioms can be safely assured that they aren't present at all on this production, and that Oho use the roots music elements in a much more creative manner. Quite a few times the melody lines as well as the mood and atmosphere of this album actually made me think about good, old Kansas, even if the music as such is markedly different.
This isn't all about roots music of course, as for starters there is a constant rock element present. Often in the execution of the folkier landscapes that are explored through more of a rock music mode of delivery, but we also get some electric guitar scattered throughout, including some nice and on occasion distinctly psychedelic guitar solo runs. Dramatic rhythm effects of the kind that give me associations to classical music pop up on a couple of occasions, and some charming, elegant and effective atmospheric laden brass-sounding surges is another cheeky addition to the landscapes explored here. There's also room for a brief detour into landscapes with a bit more of a Celtic twist, and trace elements of both jazz and symphonic progressive rock do appear here and there.
One characteristic and highly efficient detail of the album experience is to alternate between having a storyteller and regular vocals on the songs. This is a combination difficult to pull off correctly, many have explored this approach over the years, but the manner in which Oho executes this detail here is a most charming one. The storyteller aspect of this did remind me quite a bit of a similar feature on the albums of German project The Weever Sands actually, albeit without any further direct similarities between those two ventures.
In the nitpicking department it may be pointed out that the mix and production isn't quite at the level one is used to in 2023. For my sake I do find this aspect to fit perfectly with the music explored however, and that this actually emphasize the roots aspect of the material as well as the moods and atmospheres explored, but for strict audiophiles this is an aspect of the production that may take some getting used to.
I find "Ahora!" to be qute the mesmerizing production. This one album track, broken down into three sections, is a jubilant and inspired creation that show just how vibrant and elegant US style roots music can be and how tantalizing it can come across when explored inside of a progressive rock framework and context. This is, for me, the roots album that may charm progressive rock fans who normally don't like this type of music, and the progressive rock album that may well charm those who usually prefer their music to be roots and Americana exclusively. In my view among the top notch albums of 2022, and highly recommended.
Olav "Progmessor" Björnsen, February 2023