Over the past couple of years we've had a little band from Texas which has Oklahoma ties roll through town on semi-regular basis, working on building its fan base and a little home away from home here in Tulsa. After a little quiet period following a shakeup in the band's lineup last year, Oil Boom is back in action and appeared this weekend at Free Tulsa.
More than just hitting the road again, however, the band is renewed and refreshed. After the group's original singer, Brian Whitten, departed last July, guitarist Ryan Taylor stepped forward to take over lead vocals. The addition of bassist Steve Steward completed the transition and a year of uncertainty has effectively been upended and turned around by a fresh energy and renewed focus.
Reforming and hitting the road again isn't all that's been brewing behind the scenes, however. The band has also kept itself busy writing and recording and has emerged with a new EP, Gold Yeller, which was released on July 31 -- perhaps ironically, a year from the date of Whitten's last appearance with the band.
Drummer Dugan Connors met up with me during Free Tulsa and handed me a copy of the new disc, and I have to admit: Although it's got a distinctly different vibe (Taylor has a different timbre and approach in his vocals), it shows the band with a new swagger, while not departing drastically from the foundations laid with the band's debut EP, Black Waxy.
When discussing the differences with Connors, he shared "I think the old record (Black Waxy) was probably a little more gritty and roots oriented while the new one is a little more garage rock."
Indeed, while leaned more into traditional blues and soul, Taylor's slightly higher register and a fistful of more upbeat songs have pushed the band in more satisfying and rock oriented direction. The bluesy underpinnings are still there, but the group sounds like a weight has been taken off it shoulders and even the bluesy tunes have a certain joy to them. Comparisons to The Black Keys are hard to avoid, but that's not a bad thing here. These songs are similar in that they get under your skin. There's also a new swagger to the band that carries over with these songs and adds a swagger to your step as well.
When reflecting on the writing process, Connors shared that with a growth and renewed focus on everything from the guitar riffs to the chorus and lyrics, "The songs just feel more complete to me. Ryan and myself feel like we moved in the right direction and we got a more consistent sound. Each song has different characteristics, but overall, I think it's a little truer to what we are and want to do and I feel like we've grown form the last record."
Perhaps most noticeable is the lighter tone of Gold Yeller. The bluesy, R&B underpinnings are still there, but there's a classic, garage rock vibe that ties all the songs together and adds to the swagger with a more celebratory attitude and tone. The song tabbed for the first single, "The Great American Shakedown" is probably closest to the band's previous tunes and makes a wise choice as it's a logical tie in the band's current progression.
Overall, however, the EP's six songs are all solid and each could be used as a single, leaving the band's options wide open. As for now, however, Oil Boom is currently focused on getting back out and playing as much as possible.
Free Tulsa proved to be a good reintroduction for the band and an opportunity to roll out the new songs for Tulsa fans. If you dig garage rock in the vein of The Raconteurs and The Black Keys, you'll want to check out Oil Boom's Gold Yeller and grab it on iTunes or any other digital outlet. The band doesn't currently have another Tulsa gig on the books, but Taylor's parents are now in Tulsa, so the band has ties here and is focusing on playing more now that the new EP is out. I'm sure they will have something on the books shortly, however, and we'll keep you posted when they return.
With over a dozen stages and 160+ bands, it was impossible to catch everything at Free Tulsa and I didn't even try. In fact, I was intent on seeing Meiko on Friday and couldn't miss Eric Himan's Queen tribute on Saturday, but that still allowed me plenty of time to wander through the Blue Dome district before and after, and there were a few real gems out there amidst the chaos.
Defining Times played in the 7pm slot on Friday night's main stage and although there were only about 30 people when they went on, the number had tripled before they finished their set. The sun was up and it was still blistering hot, but the band's set only confirm what I already believed: Defining Times is one of the best progressive/modern/indie rock bands in the state right now.
Saturday night saw an onslaught of bands, but Pretty Black Chains played its last show for the immediate future as it prepared to buckle down for the next few months to focus on writing and preparing for the next record. Over on the main stage at Midnight that same evening, Colourmusic put on a solid show that all its die-hard fans undoubtedly loved. From what I could tell, Taddy Porter had at least twice the crowd, playing on the second stage during the same time slot, so you couldn't go wrong at either show.
The true highlights of the weekend were Friday night, however. My biggest surprise came from Vandevander, who took the stage with a completely different lineup. Matt Fisher was center stage and definitely in control, but flanked by Phil Hanewinkle on bass and Fiawna Forte on rhythm guitar on his right and left, respectively. Dual drummers, including Paddy Ryan, completed the night's lineup and added an extra firepower to Fisher's already visceral songs. And if this iteration of the band wasn't enough for you, he even rolled out a few new songs that prove he didn't empty the creative vaults with his "Great State of ..." trilogy. I can't wait for new tracks to emerge now.
Less of a surprise, but no less impactful, was Friday night's closing set by Ester Drang. Granted, everyone expected bug things here, but no one walked away disappointed. Most inspirational was merely the fact that Bryce Chambers and original bassist Kyle Winner were performing together again, but the pair weren't about to rest on their laurels. Hank Hanewinkle III filled the role as drummer near perfectly, but it was the addition of Phillip Phillips on guitar and Jon Paul Pope on cello that completed the magic here. Old fans and neophytes alike were spellbound for a little over an hour as the band dug back into its catalog for some early tines and even pulled out a couple new ones.
If you missed Ester Drang this round, you won't want to miss them when they play at The Vanguard on August 25, when they co-headline and share the stage for Foreign Home's CD release party. Mark it on your calendar now.
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