When Wink Burcham released his live disc, A Night at the Colony, last year, he admitted it was essentially released to buy time while finishing up his pending studio album, which has already logged a year in the making. Considering the fact that Burcham is known as much for his frequent live appearances as his songwriting, it was more than befitting the situation and kept fans happy while he was able to put finishing touches on his studio album.
At the time, Burcham shared that he was hoping for a late summer release, but things never go a planned. The disc is finally complete, however, and May seems the perfect time for a release, allowing him to push the disc this summer with frequent gigs in Tulsa and a schedule that's beginning to take him outside his immediate surroundings.
Entitled Irene Vennie, the disc is the perfect portrait of Burcham at his best. As could be expected, there is a bit of overlap with A Night at the Colony. Five songs that appeared on the disc show up again here: "Outta This Town (Get Lost)", "Gon' Lay You Down", "Shadows", "How It Really Went Down" and "Pay Your Dues to Sing the Blues." While those songs fit well with the live disc and its easy going approach, they all benefit from a proper treatment here, getting a little extra attention in the studio and stripping away all the crowd noise so you can focus on the songs.
This might be most apparent on "Shadows." Although the live delivery doesn't stray far on the previous recording, the song draws you in even more when you're not distracted by audience noise and the clinking of glasses. The addition of Jeff Coleman's tasteful lap steel adds a whole new layer to the song, drawing the country and blues aspect out of the song more than ever before.
What really comes to light with the studio recordings, however, is Burcham's old soul. In a live setting, Burcham is always entertaining as he draws from folk, blues and classic rock. On these recordings, however, his songs rise to the top and the band draws something special out of him. Instead of just another guy playing at the bar with a broad catalog to choose from, Burcham sounds like he's been transported from the mid-'70s and the original Tulsa Sound movement.
Dues Paid. Catch Wink Burcham at Fassler Hall, 304 S. Elgin Ave. Friday, May 12.
These tracks were originally recorded at The Church Studios in 2010 with a core backing band of Eric Arndt on bass and Paddy Ryan on drums. From there, additional layers were added as the songs called for them, with contributions from Cody Clinton, Jeff Coleman, Jesse Aycock and Chris Kyle, among others. The end result not only builds up Burcham's songs, but also feeds what comes across as a sense of community within the music, not unlike the original Tulsa sound movement.
What makes this album so interesting is the fact that these recordings make Burcham sound completely at home in the studio, which runs almost polar opposite from the discussions we had around his live release last year. At that time he revealed that he had studio recordings sitting on his shelf that are now almost 10 years old. As hard as he had tried, he could never come away with something he was satisfied with.
Ultimately, he said "I've learned that you just can't rush it in the studio -- You've got to just let it happen. I've just figured that out over the last two years and I still don't have it figured out."
"The problem with the studio is, the longer you sit on it, the more unhappy you become with it," he explained. "There's always something else you want to change or make better, but you need to finally just put your stamp on it and get it out there."
With Irene Vennie, Wink Burcham his finally put his stamp on Tulsa's local music scene. The disc is an eclectic blend, much like Burcham himself. Fans that prefer his stripped back and acoustic approach have plenty to be happy with here, especially with the sterling version of "Shadows" and the more expansive "We'll Go Dancin' Home" which includes Jesse Aycock on resonator guitar, giving the song and even swampier tone.
Personally, I've always preferred Burcham in a more fleshed out and funky mode with a full band, and that's covered here as well with "How It Really Went Down" and "Pay Your Dues to Sing the Blues."
With repeated listens, however, it's the subtleties of the disc that make it such a success. Chris Kyle's Wurltzer lines swirl in the background without drawing added attention and everyone finds their place within each song.
Upon repeated listens, the songs that really stand out on the disc are "No Matter Where You Are (There You Are)" and "Honkytonk Heroes," where Kadija Goz's upright piano adds a an almost haunting presence in the background. At first, the songs present a classic country vibe with a touch of blues. Once they open up, though, they take on an almost gospel tone, especially on "Honkytonk Blues", where Burcham shares trades vocal lines with Desirae Roses, drawing the best from both of them.
Now that the disc is complete, it seems that Burcham has finally found the secret to working in the studio. One can only hope that's the case and it won't take him another 10 years to produce something he's happy with. As a prolific songwriter, he admitted last may that he already had another 18 or 19 new songs written when the live disc was released, and you know that number has only grown since.
For now, however, it's time for Burcham to celebrate the completion and release of his studio debut. A series of release parties and shows leads him to a homecoming gig this weekend at Fassler Hall on Saturday night, May 12, with Ramsay Midwood. You can expect a full band gig with all the usual suspects in town (Arndt on bass, Cody Clinton and Jeff Coleman on guitar, Chris Kyle on Rhodes organ and possibly even a small horn section). Even with an expanded lineup, you can be sure Burcham won't lose a step of his sure-footedness or the relaxed and easygoing vibe that is the signature of his work.
The inclusion of Austin based Ramsay Midwood only adds to the evening and ensures a full night of great songwriting. The show begins at 9pm and cover is only $5. More importantly, however, it's an opportunity to finally pick up Wink Burcham's studio debut, which has been a long time coming. The results are worth the wait, but he's now set high expectations for himself. We can only hope it won't take as long for us to get to hear the next chapter.
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