There aren't many people in Tulsa who won't agree that our local music scene is especially vibrant and alive right now. Not only has our indie rock scene continued to flourish, a handful of hip hop acts have continued to simmer and begin to boil to the surface, much like a small segment of young pop artists have slowly begun to develop.
The group that has arguably drawn the most attention over the past couple of years, however, due to a combination of solid musicianship, constant gigging, collaboration, and consistent promotion, is a circle of friends and peers that have collectively come to be known as part of the "New Tulsa Sound."
Exactly where that moniker came from, no one is exactly sure, but I do remember first associating it with Paul Benjaman Band when that group's first CD was released, as Benjaman's playing seemed to harness the lazy ease of the legendary '70s "Tulsa Sound" and drag it into the current decade, a marriage of the classic tones of JJ Cale ad Leon Russell with the more modern jam band sensibilities of Black Crowes and Widespread Panic.
As a precursor to establishing Horton Records, Brian Horton partnered with Brian Fontaine and The Colony to compile what became The Colony Presents: The New Tulsa Sound, a sampler disc that showcased over a dozen artists that played regularly at The Colony and shared a similar vibe and approach to the music.
Back then, Horton shared that he had developed the idea as a way to showcase some of Tulsa's overlooked talent and give those artists a platform to move to the next level. As it turned out, ii not only provided and impetus and springboard for many of those bands to record and release their own albums, but it also laid the groundwork for what would become Horton Records, a local label established as a non-profit organization with the sole intention of promoting the Tulsa's music scene and cycling any proceeds back into the creative process.
That initial New Tulsa Sound compilation did well enough to call for an additional pressing and a vinyl reissue with additional bonus tracks, a sign of not only the level of talent we have in our community, but also the support that those bands has received from local audiences. As a result, a few different ideas for a follow up have been tossed around of the past year, including a group of collaborations, pairing up artists from within the scene for some special duets. In the end, however, it seemed more appropriate to sit the musicians down in the legendary Church Studios (previous home of Leon Russell and Shelter Records) and set them loose to create some fresh recordings and show just how much they've grown in the past couple of years.
PAUL BENJAMAN BAND
With that idea in mind, The Church Studios played home to a certain collection of friends and musicians for ten days of recording sessions in February of 2012. The end result is the sixteen track Fassler Hall Presents: The New Tulsa Sound, Volume 2, which is celebrating its release next weekend with a two night release party at, as the title would suggest, Fassler Hall.
Recorded live in the studio with only a few overdubs, the current collection captures a different energy than the first compilation and showcases the strengths of each artist. Appropriately enough, the disc opens with "Them Tulsa Boys" by Paul Benjaman Band, which serves to give a nod to the local music scene as a whole and set the tone for the album right out of the gate. Although the track harnesses a classic rock vibe that as always been a staple of Benjaman's live performances, it also captures a bit of the group's live bravado and serves as a reminder that we're way past due for something new from Benjaman and his band. Pilgrim continues the vibe and logically segues into Wink Burcham's "Town in Oklahoma," which not only starts to show the diversity of this group of musicians, but draws attention to Burcham's songwriting, which has continued to develop and create a niche for him that falls somewhere between Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt.
By including 16 tracks, the disc may initially feel a little long and drawn out, but it also provides and incredible cross section of what this group of musicians is doing right now. The Panda Resistance, GoGo Plumbay and And There Stand Empires represent the instrumental side of the local scene, but each do so with a different twist: GoGo Plumbay reflects Tulsa's jazz history while And There Stand Empires goes in a decidedly more modern, post-rock direction and The Panda Resistance falls somewhere in the middle with "Agnes & Myrtle" being one of the most immediate and arresting recordings to date.
Of course, indie rock gets to shine here as well, but the artists representing that movement are disparate as well. Dead Sea Choir continues to be a master of progressive indie while Fiawna Forte harnesses a more passionate and visceral vibe with "Crying Tree." Low Litas also make an appearance this time around and their version of "Busted" is one of the big surprises of the disc, giving it a small sonic explosion before wrapping up. Perhaps the most satisfying tracks on the disc, for me at least, are Vandevander's smoldering "The Wicked Dance" and Refund Division's "Dying of Thirst." While "The Wicked Dance" serves as a preview of what we can expect following the "Great State of" trilogy and moves forward in a logically gritty, gut-bucket rock direction, Refund Division's departure from the glossy production of its debut reveals a new dynamic to the band that promises to be even more exciting on its forthcoming sophomore release.
Of course, the blues and jam band leaning of the local movement are well represented with Whirligig, Paul Benjaman Band, Steve Pryor, Band and a revisitation of "The Ocean" by Dustin Pittsley Band that infuses a whole new life and energy into one of his older tracks. The real treasure of this collection, however, is the songwriting of the artists involved. Everyone puts a good foot forward, but the shining stars in that aspect are Vandevander and Fiawna Forte from the rock segment and Wink Burcham and Jesse Aycock on the Americana side of this group of musicians.
In fact, Jesse Aycock's "Love is Life" proves to be a fantastic closer for this compilation. Not only does it bookend this collection of songs beautifully when paired with "Them Tulsa Boys" to open, but it provides an intriguing peek at what we've got to look forward to with Aycock's coming CD release. Not only does it showcase his ever growing songwriting skills, but it also highlights his Beatle-esque inclinations as the song expands near the end with a growing chorus of his peers. Even if the disc seems a little long to some, this track alone makes it worth the journey.
I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the compilation, which will be released to the public next week. You'll want to mark your calendars now to not only grab a copy and get yourself a great sampling of what is brewing within Tulsa's local music scene, but plan ahead to attend both nights of a two part release party at Fassler Hall on Friday and Saturday, September 28-29.
Jesse Aycock will open up Friday night's show, starting at 7:15pm. The stage will rotate artists every 45 minutes with a running order that includes Desi & Cody, Wink Burcham, Refund Division, Pilgrim, Vandevander, Dustin Pittsley Band and Paul Benjaman Band for the Friday night celebration.
Saturday's party opens with Whirligig at 8pm, followed by Low Litas, GoGo Plumbay, And There Stand Empires, Panda Resistance, Fiawna Forte and Dead Sea Choir, giving the night a decidedly more experimental and indie-rock bent.
Cover is only $5 at the door each night and will not provide a great cross section of bands, but also an opportunity to be amongst the first to pick up The New Tulsa Sound, Volume 2. As much as serving to offer up a great representation of our local bands, it also provides a peak into what we should expect from the local scene in months to come with new releases on the horizon from Jesse Aycock, Vandevander, Refund Division, Dustin Pittsley and more.
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