catherine o'brien

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Catherine O'Brien (Autoproduzione - 2003)

La vita dei musicisti girovaghi non è facile. A volte incontrano il destino sotto forma di contratti milionari, spesso, una stazione, un incrocio o la strada centrale di una metropoli, sono il loro pane quotidiano.

Non sarà sembrato vero a Catherine O'Brien, una jazz singer non molto conosciuta australiana, quando qualcuno gli propose di incontrare Bob Haggart (bassista della Bob Crosby Orchestra) a Los Angeles.

Avrà avuto come minimo uno sbalzo di pressione a pensarlo. Due vecchi pezzi strumentali ("I'm Free" e "My Inspiration") riproposti al famoso autore, con tanto di liriche, le hanno fatto guadagnare l'ammirazione dell'anziano bassista e i diritti per inciderli.

Ma qualcosa non andò per il verso giusto e così, in poco tempo, la musicista, appiedata, fu costretta a pagarsi da sé il soggiorno a Los Angeles, bighellonando di qua e di là a gaudagnarsi da vivere con la chitarra a tracolla.

Il titolo del suo CD d'esordio, LA or Busk, è autobiografico quanto basta, così come il brano, "Kings Cross Blues". In quindici minuti, durata davvero insolita per un disco, più che le doti di cantante si evidenziano quelle di una buona compositrice.
Accompagnata dalle morbide e suadenti armonie costruite dal pur bravo chitarrista Doug De Vries, il disco si muove, seppur nella sua estrema brevità, tra appeal bossa e innervature più folk. "Without You Alone" è il pezzo più immediato e convincente.

Michele Chisena

This review:

For an English translation click here


...subtle and pleasant...   Off Jazz
Catherine O'Brien: LA or Busk
Catherine O'Brien (voc), Doug de Vries (g), Rosaleen O'Brien (tecl).
Melbourne, 2002

   La bendición y la maldición de este disco es su brevedad.   O'Brien nos cuenta, en supágina web ( y en su información de prensa una especie de sueño americano truncado: artista callejera conoce a músico famoso (Bob Haggart) y agrega letras a su música, más o menos apadrinada a lo lejos por ese mismo músico.   Sólo que la invitación de Haggart era bastante limitada: O'Brien tuvo que pasarse meses tocando ("busking" de ahí el título) en las calles de su país, Australia, hasta que juntó el dinero para verlo a Haggart.   Este disco quiere relatar ese recorrido, en cierta forma.   La voz de O'Brien es sutil y agradable, tal vez grabada con muchísima cámara, como para darle caudal, y está acompañada por la guitarra, también sutil y agradable, de Doug De Vries.   En un par de ternas, la hermana de Catherine, Rosaleen, la acompaña con un teclado sutil y agradabilísimo, que apenas da un color de fondo.   Las letras no son gran cosa, y lo mejor del disco es cierto manejo irónico de la melodía, una especie de folk amargo (que nada tiene que ver con el jazz) pero que siempre consigue alejarse de las complacencias pop.   Los temas apenas llegan a los dos minutos, y cuando hace uno de tres (I'm Free, lafamosa melodía de Haggart que inspiró a O'Brien) parece que se extendiera para siempre.   Los otros temas desaparecen antes de que puedan grabarse en la memoria, y el oyente se queda con la sensación de que se perdió algo interesante.   El problema es que lo mismo pasa con el disco; apenas supera los dieciséis minutos y sólo aquellos con un esfuerzo de curiosidad volverán a escucharlo una y otra vez, hasta captar esta sutil y agradable combinación de folk suave y ligeramente oblicuo, y, dentro de esa planicie, la ruptura del blues con que termina el disco.

E. Hojman
Cuadernos de Jazz - September / October 2003 - page 44

For an English translation click here


...aunty's anthem...   Aunty's Anthem

In the Budget wash up, we thought we'd leave you with, This Is Our ABC written by Catherine O'Brien, She sent it to Balding last week.

"Pollies please let it be
It must be commerce free
For it's integrity
It's the only source of information
That isn't dollar driven don't you see?
And how about the future generations
No alternative to pay TV".

Amanda Meade
The Diary
The Australian
May 22-28 2003


...songs of individual introspection... CATHERINE O’BRIEN
Kiss The Earth


Jazz, it seems, has taken root in the soil of eastern Australia. A jazz singer in the country’s clubs and piano bars as well as a familiar face on the streets of Sydney where she busks, Catherine O’Brien fashions light, airy, folk-tinged jazz songs with a sparse but pretty guitar accompaniment, to which she sings songs of individual introspection and sometimes political protest...
...Wrapping her barbs in the sweetest of musical garments, O’Brien delivers lyrics that belie her songs’ understated and wistful tone. See for details or to purchase the album.

CD Reviews 
May 2, 2003 #475


...beautiful fieldmouse silvertongue... CATHERINE (CATHIE) O'BRIEN Kiss The Earth / LA Or Busk (Selbstverlag, EPCDs): 

Vier Songs mit ihren folkigen und acht mit ihren jazzigen Facetten, zusammen unter dreißig Minuten, aber immerhin zwei Visitenkarten einer Sängerin, die jahrelang an der australischen Ostküste zwischen Hobart und Cairns durch Restaurants und Pianobars tingelte. Bei 'Australien sucht den Superstar' hätte ihre vibratolose Naturstimme allenfalls befremdetes Kopfschütteln ausgelöst. Wozu die schönste Feldmaus-Silberzunge zu unschuldigem Gitarrengeklampfe, wenn man nicht danach giert, mit den Wölfen zu heulen? Urbaner sind die Jazzminiaturen mit eigenen Lyrics, drei davon komponiert von ihrem Landsmann, dem Saxophonisten Bernie McGann, zwei weitere sind Oldies des Swing-Bassisten Bob Haggart, die er 1938 mit dem Bob Crosby Orchestra eingespielt hatte. O'Brien dreht die Uhr nicht ganz so weit zurück. Wenn sie von "Gentle mercy rain" singt, davon, dass "Dreams and memories are no comfort zone" oder wenn sie "Old enough to know the score" auf "I won't bother you no more" reimt, senkt sich ein Noir-Feeling auf Astrud Gilbertos Post-Bossa-Nova-Easyness und Mehltau auf die hoffnungsvollen 60ies. Die Frau hinter diesen Songs geht ihren eigen Weg zwischen 'Sadness' und 'Madness' und singt den 'Kings Cross Blues' so selbstbewusst, wie es die rauhe Gegenwart verlangt. [rbd]

With bad alchemystic wishes

Bad Alchemy
Rigo Dittmann
Franz-Ludwig-Str. 11
97072 Würzburg

(Review from BA 42)   For an English translation click here expressive cool voice she uses well... Cathie O'Brien
Kiss the Earth and LA or Busk

When I first listened to Kiss the Earth, I wondered why the heck it was in my review package.  A 4-song EP of bright neo-folk songs done with voice and guitar, it was pleasant enough but didn't have the slightest hint of Jazz influence. 

Things made more sense upon listening to LA or Busk, the same singer, Catherine O'Brien, in the same sparse setting but this time mostly vocalizing Jazz compositions. Most come from Australian saxophonist Bernie McGann, but a couple are familiar tunes by Bob Haggart. 

O'Brien has an expressive cool voice she uses well in maneuvering around twisty lines like "Spirit Song" and "Lady's Choice". She exudes an attractive innocence and makes the songs' sentiments convincing. 

She's really nice on the two Haggart songs, "My Inspiration" and "I'm Free", which is really the familiar "What's New" with new lyrics written by O'Brien and is the most haunting piece on the set. 

The time here is unusually short. The songs are so bare-bones that even if EP was added to the CD, the total time would still run under a half hour. A longer set would have been welcome here.

Jerome Wilson
Cadence Magazine
New York USA
February 2003


..gentle cd with a message... KISS THE EARTH - Cathie O'Brien

Cathie O'Brien's first CD - LA or Busk - was reviewed in these pages last April. She has quickly released a follow-up morsel containing four short tracks totalling 13 minutes.

Last time she sang a mixture of ballads, composed by other people but with her own lyrics, and I described her voice as 'wistful, understated, vibrato-less and subdued'.

This time she again has a guitar accompanist (Nick Hart). She composed all the music on the CD herself, plus wrote the lyrics.

There's a love song ('Well I'm tired of being Stoic, I'm not having any fun') and an urban dweller's yearning for the bush: 'Well I live in the city, where the air's always gritty'. There's also political comment: ABC is a cute song with a 'This is your ABC' message and another song defends the downtrodden Tasmanians against the justice system.

Recorded in the ABC Hobart studios, this is a pleasant, gentle CD with a message - more folk music than jazz. Available from PO Box 28, St Pauls, NSW 2031. 

Derrick Davey
2MBS-FM Fine Music
February 2002's a pleasant, relaxing opus... Catherine O'Brien 
LA or Busk

Here's a pleasant, relaxing opus to go with an early-evening glass of something. O'Brien is a modest singer and better lyricist, who has set words to three of Bernie McGann's tunes, among others. Keith Hounslow's Kiama Sunrise is a lifting highlight. She is accompanied by the supremely tasteful guitar of Doug De Vries. It's just EP length.

John Shand 
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald 
May 25-31 2001


...despite the busking connotations, this is no second-rate street singer...

Catherine O'Brien

Catherine O'Brien is the singer about whom I wrote in the January issue of Stereo FM Radio. She makes most of her living busking in Kings Cross. This is her first CD.

Despite the busking connotations, this is no second-rate street singer. Her voice reminds me of Astrud Gilberto: wistful, understated, vibrato-less and subdued. This mood is emphasised by her choice of songs, all but one of which are slow, romantic ballads.

Two of the compositions - My Inspiration and I'm Free (What's New) - are by Bob Haggart, while Bernie McGann and Keith Hounslow wrote most of the others. I found Without You Alone, composed by O'Brien's sister Rosaleen, the most attractive of all, with a haunting melody that should be recorded by others. Catherine wrote all the lyrics.

Guitarist Doug de Vries and Rosaleen O'Brien on keyboards provide sympathetic support.

Derrick Davey
2MBS-FM Stereo FM Radio
March 2001


...she enjoys the creative and communicative aspects of lyric writing ... LA via the Cross

Jazz singer Catherine O'Brien was working her way up and down the East Coast when opportunity knocked. Invited to visit composer Bob Haggart in LA, she was left to finance the expedition herself. DERRICK DAVEY got the story.

Until 1996, Catherine O'Brien had been a singer of popular jazz standards and ballads around the clubs and piano lounges of eastern Australia.

But her career took a dramatic turn in 1994 when, by chance, she met 2MBS broadcaster Dick Hughes, who was playing piano at the Shakespeare Hotel in Surry Hills. This was the spark that led to a trip to the US and a meeting with Bob Haggart, the old Bob Crosby bass player, with whom she subsequently corresponded for the rest of his life.

Catherine O'Brien grew up in the Ovens Valley, Victoria, as the fourth in a family of six girls. Music was an important part of the O'Brien family and all the girls were taught to play the piano. Catherine studied classical piano from seven to fourteen, had various vocal coaches and taught herself to play guitar.

A series of accidents affected her ability to gain mainstream employment, but she had already developed an interest in jazz (trumpeter Clifford Brown was a particular favourite) and her introduction to the music business came when she got a one-off gig in the piano bar of the Hyatt Kingsgate in Sydney.

Since that night, years ago, she has sung and played the piano or guitar in restaurants and piano bars up and down the East Coast from Hobart to Cairns.

Until 1994 O'Brien had always sung other people's songs, but a visit to the Shakespeare Hotel in Surry Hills changed all that. The piano player was Dick Hughes, journalist, pianist and 2MBS broadcaster, who played two Bob Haggart compositions, 'I'm Free' (later with lyrics by Johnny Burke and retitled 'What's New') and 'My Inspiration'. The Bob Crosby Orchestra had recorded both in 1938.

O'Brien was intrigued by the music and, encouraged by Dick, put words to both tunes. She was given Bob Haggart's phone number, rang him and sang her lyrics to his music to him. He was delighted and invited her to visit him in Los Angeles.

This was the easy part.

With very little money, it took her two years busking in Kings Cross to earn sufficient to cover the trip's expenses. She wrote a sign on her guitar case: 'LA or BUST', later changed to 'LA or BUSK', which was to become the tide of her first CD (to be reviewed in Stereo FM Radio next month).

The trip to the US was successful. O'Brien met Bob Haggart and his music publishers and persuaded them to give her permission to use his music. She has sung and recorded her lyrics to Bob Haggart's songs, together with others by Bernie McCann, Keith Hounslow, Grahame Conlon and her sister Rosaleen.

These days busking is part of earning a living. It's still a challenge, though 'Some nights just bubble along nicely and everyone is happy. But mostly the evening is a cocktail of changing emotions,' she says. 'One has to be alert to danger. Then there are the physical demands of the weather. There is a certain amount of dehydration, exposure to rain, damp, humidity and cold. Though the nights are long and exhausting, I am thankful for the generosity and goodwill I have encountered.'

She confirms what many other jazz musicians say: that since the depression of 1987, the abolition of the expense-account rorts and the cancerous spread of poker machines, piano bar and restaurant jobs are harder to find and pay less.

But she enjoys the creative and communicative aspects of lyric writing and has written some 'social comment' songs that are yet to be recorded.

Derrick Davey
2MBS-FM Stereo FM Radio
January 2001


...well known late night busker in 'the cross'... Kings Cross Arts Guild - Newsletters 


Catherine O'Brien - well known late night busker in The Cross - has recorded some of her music on CD. 'LA or Busk' reflects her many talents and features 2 songs written in association with American Jazz Great Bob Haggart. Also on the recording is her fabulous 'Kings Cross Blues'. Catherine is currently compiling a CD of songs written in and around The Cross by various artists and about The Cross by various artists to be called 'Cross Cut'.

We can help Catherine get to LA by phoning our favourite radio station and asking to hear songs from 'LA or Busk'.

Phone 9398 6631 for copies of the CD (very much recommended).

The 'Cross Cut' CD will be released as part of the CrossCulture Festival celebrations.

All the best, Catherine!







© Copyright 2001-2009 Catherine O'Brien.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is strictly forbidden.