Tony O'Leary tends to reach for a guitar when he's struck with an idea for a new song.
Whether he's coaxing a melody out of the strings or finding chords to accompany his lyrics, the Western Bay musician said the guitar is his songwriting instrument of choice. But it's not the only instrument he plays.
On his third and latest solo CD, The Mysteries of Life, he plays mandola and accordion as well, with the other instruments - drums, violins, cellos - being played by other musicians he brought in for the recording sessions, who he praises for their musicianship at the recording sessions.
Those sessions were mostly done at Record Time Productions in St. John's under the supervision of producer Rick Hallett.
O'Leary is heading back into the studio again to record a new single, Looking Out to Sea, that he hopes to have finished and available on iTunes before Christmas.
Looking Out To Sea covers familiar territory for O'Leary, who tends to write songs based on personal experience that express his love and concern for nature.
"Somehow we have to have more respect for the land than we've had in the past," he said.
The respect O'Leary has for nature was learned when he was a young boy playing in the woods of northern Ontario, and later as he explored the wilds of Alberta before moving back to his birthplace of Newfoundland, where he continued to explore the wilds, with the island's west coast mountains earning a special place in his heart.
Those lands worked their way into songs like "The Long Range Mountains Beckon Me," which explores O'Leary's fascination with the Northern Peninsula mountain range.
Other songs, like Babbling Brook, have roots in nature but deal with matters of the heart.
The song, which O'Leary said seems to be especially liked by the women he's played it for, uses a brook to tell a love story about a man and a woman who first meet as kids, then part, with each vowing to love the other. Years later, they meet again and get back together. The Babbling Brook, he said, is a part of life, and contains a life lesson he's learned over the years.
"If it was easy to get," he said, "it would be worthless."
The song reflects O'Leary's Irish and Newfoundland roots, and leans toward a more traditional sound, drawn from the Irish music O'Leary feels a close connection to.
Connecting with roots
Growing up in various provinces, there was always an accordion in the house, since his father played, and he grew up with traditional music. Music was a way to connect with his roots, and to keep Newfoundland close, even when it was far away. But when it comes to writing his own material, he's not too concerned if one of his tunes doesn't sound anything like Lukey's Boat.
"My main concern was to write the songs, and that they were good and that people could relate to them," he said.
The result is a collection of songs that acknowledge O'Leary's traditional roots while mixing in bluesy elements and giving a nod to other genres as well. In the end, it's all about the song.
"A good song's a good song, b'y," he said.
Editor's note: The Mysteries of Life is available in St. John's at HMV, Fred's Records, O'Brien's Music, or the Downhome store, and in Carbonear at Music Plus, and online at iTunes.com. Samples of the tunes can also be heard at http://www.tonyolearymusic.ca.