You want to know the best part of a New Year? Sure, it's a fresh start, putting the past behind you, blah, blah, blah. For me, New Year's marks a turning point and a starting point for a whole new round of music. And true to past experience, Tulsa's local artists haven't wasted any time getting down to business.
This weekend marks X-Cal's coming out (and farewell) party with the release of his debut disc, Already on Clearance, and all the revelry that one would expect to go with it. The release party is Sat., Jan. 24 with featured guests Kawnar and PDA as well as openers David's Bandana, Hiphopapotomus and Trauma. The show is the first opportunity to pick up the disc by Tulsa's latest emerging rapper. Expect a $7 cover.
We've already taken a peek at X-Cal as the performer's duel careers in wrestling and music started to take off last September. That was just a matter of laying groundwork. Now, the rapper has his debut CD complete and is ready to shoot for the stars.
Produced by Kawnar, Already on Clearance is everything X-Cal promised last fall: a mix of rap, rock, R&B and pop, polished with a heavy dose of sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek humor. The album serves to drive home the comedy factor and somehow tie the songs together. But after a few listens, you become tired and notice the supposed highlights of the disc as faults.
X-Cal's strengths are his self-deprecating sense of humor and ability to play his insecurities and vices for laughs.
Standout single "Starving Artist" lays it all on the table early on with the rapper blatantly throwing out lines like "Show me where to sign, I'll even sing like Marvin Gaye" and "I'd sell my soul for a taste of fame and I'd give everything to make a name," countered by "I'm only doing this because there's people I've gotta pay back."
It all comes off as sarcastic and semi tongue-in-cheek. "I'm pretty much openly admitting to it. Everybody else disses it, but will be the first one to do it if they're approached. At least I'm comfortable with admitting it and not lying about it. You gotta do whatever to get ahead, then later you can do what you want," X-Cal said.
Fortunately, there's more to X-Cal than selling out. Other highlights from the disc include "Another Cigarette" and "Negative Insignia," both of which see the rapper admit to his vices and expose his (ever so slightly) vulnerable side, even if delivered with dry wit and sarcasm.
Unfortunately, it's a double-edged sword.
The constant sarcasm makes the more somber and supposedly heartfelt cuts like "Seasons Change" and "Lord, I'm Sorry" ring hollow when thrown in the mix. Mostly, however, a styled sales pitch and an ode to selling out make the rest of the disc sound like a desperate cry for attention.
Recorded, mixed and mastered in three weeks, the disc does retain part of the energy of the frenetic work pace, but at times it also reeks of half-assedness. I won't lie. X-Cal's an engaging character and his disc is amongst the better of the rap and hip-hop releases we've seen on the local level, but that's not a complete picture.
I also won't misdirect you. Although it's better than the vast majority of local rap, Already on Clearance is far from a homerun. It's not up to par with PDA's Act II or Kawnar's Unclear, for that matter. X-Cal openly plays on his ties to those artists. And that's fine, but you can't rely on others to carry you.
I expected more from X-Cal - perhaps unfairly, especially for a debut. You have to live up to the expectations you've set. Some readers may think I pander to PDA, but the bottom line is Act II was miles beyond what local rap had seen previously. That album set a new standard, and if the follow-up turns out to be a steaming turd, I'll be one of the first to let PDA know.
Kawnar's production and co-writing obviously carry Already on Clearance; and PDA's additions on "Too Late to Be Nice" and "Now or Never" are two of the highlight -- moreso than X-Cal's lyrics or flow. Props are owed to PDA for the remix beats on the alternate take of "Not Available." The "Evil Twin" remix sounds more revealing than sarcastic, even if there is a dark humor to it. Unfortunately, those highlights feel more like the work of his peers than X-Cal himself, which is not a good thing for a breakout disc.
It's interesting that this weekend's release party serves as more than a celebration and coming out party for X-Cal; it's also a farewell party as he's taking his new product and giving it a run in California.
Perhaps the young hustler angle will fly better in the land of silicone and fake tans. If so, great. His actions and work ethic are going to have to be stronger than his rhymes if he expects to make it stick.
Obviously, Already on Clearance is a mixed bag, but it's not without merit. Even if it's an uneven start, the album makes me look forward to what Tulsa music will bring in 2009.
The disc drops this weekend with a 7pm show at the Blank Slate. Be sure to stop in and check it out if you want a peek at what's happening on the local hip-hop scene.
Also throwing its hat in the ring with a debut CD is progressive modern rock act Keyless Entry. If you don't know the name yet, that's understandable, but you might remember this young band from winning the Multiple Sclerosis High School "Battle of the Bands" at Bob's last November.
Keyless Entry has taken a slightly different approach to making its mark on the local scene. Instead of cutting its teeth playing the local all-ages venues and working toward a debut CD, this group of Holland Hall students has been cruising under the public radar for roughly three years.
The "Battle of the Bands" contest was essentially the public debut for Keyless Entry and the event revealed a surprisingly mature group of young musicians. Now, with the release of debut disc, From One to Flat Six, Keyless Entry is hitting the ground running and ready to go from zero to sixty with the intent of making a name for itself on the local music front.
Expect to see more of these guys this year as the group hopes to hit local festivals and all-ages clubs whenever possible.
Musically, the group is hard to pin down, with personal influences ranging from The Beatles and Pink Floyd to Radiohead and John Mayer. The group draws from all corners on its debut, sounding a tad schizophrenic, but the live show distills everything into a progressive jazz/jam/rock sound that's more consistent.
In an odd scheduling twist, the band's CD release is also scheduled for Saturday night, January 24 at the Blank Slate Complex, opposite the X-Cal show. As of press deadline, it was unclear which band has which room, so expect one show to be in The Blank Slate with the other in Exit 6C or Capella's. Nevertheless, this debut adds one more reason to get out on Saturday evening to see what our young bands are up to. Doors open at 7pm.
Even if the weather can't decide what it's doing, the clubs are hopping and bands are out in full force. As always, here are a few highlights to get you out the door and started in the right direction:
Thursday nights can be a quandary at times, but if all else fails you can fall back on standing gigs. Last week we highlighted Dustin and Jessie's Higher Education at McNellie's. Brandon Clark and Travis Kidd have renewed their long-standing association with a Thursday night gig on the Southside at SoCo's Sports Bar, and Ida Red in Brookside is becoming a standby on Brookside as well with its "Artist Sessions" acoustic series. This week's performer is Bo Roberson.
Friday, January 23 marks an annual wake up for Cain's Ballroom, coming off its annual hibernation period. The Ballroom gets back to business with bluegrass/jam act Sam Bush this weekend before the schedule gets hot and heavy in the first quarter with visits from Marc Broussard, Yonder Mountain, Galactic, Gov't Mule, Andrew Bird and more. With a jumpstart like this, is it any wonder that Cain's finished 2008 ranked no. 41 in ticket sales for small- to medium-sized venues in Pollstar magazine's national update?
Meanwhile, Dead Sea Choir, Uglysuit and The Evangelicals throw down a can't-miss-show for the indie crowd at The Marquee, and The Souvenirs keep Soundpony hopping.
If you're looking for something bluesier, check out Josh Davis Band at Mercury Lounge or Tulsa's longstanding guitar hero Steve Pryor at Arnie's.
Saturday night sees a couple of bigger shows hit Tulsa, starting with Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker at the BOK Center ($39.75/$46.75). On Brookside, however, singer/songwriter fans should check out Eliza Gilkyson with Jesse Aycock at All Souls Coffeehouse.
At the First Street Music Complex Sage Flower plays Capellas while the previously mentioned XCal CD release goes on at the Blank Slate. Anyone looking to dance can hit Assimilation at The Marquee or DJ Moody at Soundpony, and blues fans can check out Joe Mack at Arnie's.
Finally, the landmark show of the week is the resurrection of the grand-daddies of hard rock and metal, AC/DC, at the BOK on Monday night, January 26. Pack your earplugs, people! You know they're going to pull out all the classics, including "For Those About to Rock," complete with the cannons.
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