Though he looks pretty normal, and his music isn't self-consciously oddball in any way, Terry O'Hara is one of the city's more unusual musical characters. The sole proprietor of Summer-Winter, O'Hara pops up every couple of years to drop a beautiful, understated alt-folk album, then disappears again.
O'Hara is largely the opposite of the average attention-seeking musician, but relishes the fun of self-mythologizing all the same. (His press kit insists he was orphaned in Belfast and beaten nearly to death in a mugging in Baltimore; in person, he says, "You may have picked up on the fact that I tend toward the absurd in biography-writing.") He's got a strong sense of privacy -- he won't discuss his day job other than to say that he "works with kids and people" -- but he admits that there's a certain narcissism that goes along with putting your songs on an album and releasing it to the public. He says he prefers playing in casual settings, with friends at home, but all the same, he includes his email address for booking inquiries in the liner of his new album.
Summer-Winter's latest is Bewildered, a follow-up to debut Alone Is Yes, which was released in early 2010. A team of session players well known to Pittsburgh audiences (Matt Booth, of City Dwelling Nature Seekers; Megan Williams, of the Emily Rodgers Band) assists, and the whole thing is produced by Larry Luthor, a notable engineer from Mr. Small's.
O'Hara cites Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse as influences; they're apt reference points for his music. Bewildered, commanded by O'Hara's wavering, comforting vocals, is rainy-weather music (and therefore ideal for Pittsburgh). His lyrics are deceptively simple and quietly emotional. He strives for musical simplicity (to the point that he recalls wrestling with musicians in the studio, convincing them not to overplay); the result is hypnotic and resigned, but not melancholy.
SUMMER-WINTER CD RELEASE with KEVIN FINN, TRUTH IN ADVERTISING. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 10. Club Café, 56 S. 12th St., South Side. $6. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com