Tom Skinner isn't new to the Oklahoma music scene. In fact, he's been a part of the scene for roughly 30 years, becoming a prominent player in the early '80s, both as a solo artist and as part of The Skinner Brothers (with younger brothers Mike and Craig). Skinner has continued to be a constant presence on our local scene with Tom Skinner's Science Project, a long running songwriter's circle of musicians that currently meets at The Colony on Wednesday nights, as well as playing bass for both Susan Herndon and Mike McClure.
It's been years, however, since we've gotten a solo album from Skinner. His last album came out in 1999. Since then, Skinner has been happy to continue playing with friends without releasing much of his own material.
It came as a surprise to many, then, when Skinner finally released his new, self-titled album this fall on 598 Recordings. Regardless of how long it's been since a new album came out, though, it's reason to rejoice for anyone from Skinner loyalists to Red Dirt fans to simply anyone who love great songwriting.
Chances are if you know and have seen Skinner play at all over the past few years, you already know at least a few songs on the disc. This isn't an album of new, half-baked songs. After a long absence from the studio, the album turns out to be more a collection of instant classics that have already been aged to perfection, like a great wine. A visit to the studio just finally took them from the cask to the bottle and wrapped them in simple yet classy packaging to draw proper attention as it is finally offered for public consumption.
Right out of the gate, the album opens with "Trying to Meet Someone" and the tone is set. Skinner's songwriting gift has always been twofold: First, he's a great storyteller. Second, his style is so personal that listening to him sing is like sitting and hearing him speak to you directly, not only weaving his tales, but also sharing what was learned from each experience. Not only does "Trying To Meet Someone" do just that, it's delivered with a near perfect mix that encapsulates everything I think of when the term Red Dirt is mentioned: it's country without being too country, with just a touch of folk and enough rock energy to give the song a sense of urgency.
That's not all Skinner has to offer, though. "That's Where We Belong" is a sweet song of love and yearning that's so classically country that the latest crop of pop-country artists ought to be required to memorize it as a lesson in both songwriting and orienting themselves with how classic country relates to the 21st century. At the same time, it's also a lesson in pop-precision, delivering everything you need, including a great hook and melody in less than three minutes.
There's also another class he teaches with this album that would be well learned by the latest crop of country's young guns. Skinner didn't write all of the songs on the disc, but he puts his own stamp on them and makes them his own with his heartfelt delivery. Larry Spears' "Favorite Cup" is a song that I've heard Skinner play repeatedly and this recorded version is a near perfect reading, a touching duet with Susan Herndon, which would be a centerpiece on an album by anyone else. The only reason it doesn't stand out more is the fact that there isn't a single filler on this disc. Every song packs a different punch, tells a different story and proves to be another lesson in life.
TOM SKINNER’S SCIENCE PROJECT
FILE PHOTO/STORMI CERTAIN
In fact, it's hard to believe that "I Love This Game" isn't a Tom Skinner tune. One of the best songs about baseball you may ever hear, telling the tale of a minor league pitcher who never got his big break, but never lost his love for the game. Although it was written by Randy Pease, this is Skinner at his best, delivering a story straight from the heart.
"Light of the World" is a Reverend Gary Davis tune, delivered as pure gospel with a classic Red Dirt stamp and Mark Tulley's "Out on Dentonville" comes across as classic Skinner as well, with Tom speaking to you directly in a conversational tone.
The album ends with another Skinner tune, "Way Back When," which encapsulates everything he does so well, wrapped up in a lilting piano ballad. As a whole, the album is one of the best pictures of what Red Dirt is really all about that we've seen or heard in years. The fact that it's also a near perfect picture of what Skinner does best may or may not be coincidental.
Just how good is this album? Although it will undoubtedly sail under most people's radar, none other than Garth Brooks has called it "a gift" to music fans. If you love great songwriting and the Red Dirt scene, it's hard to argue.
"I know Tom Skinner well enough to say that making a record of his original recordings was not something that he was easily talked into," Brooks said of the disc. "Hats off to Mike McClure for getting it done. Tom is very private with his music because the stuff he writes is extremely personal. This is a very, very special gift from Tom to all of his fans ... of which, I am one."
Probably the secret to the success of this disc is Mike McClure, who aided in the production of the album, along with Joe Hardy and Steve Ripley. Surely, without McClure's prodding, we'd have still not seen another Skinner album materialize. As luck would have it, though, we not only get a new disc, but it has arrived just in time for the holidays. When you find it, make sure to not only grab one for yourself, but at least two more to share with your music loving friends. This is one that will surely become a classic in your library for years to come. And with an album this strong, what better gift could there be?
We Bid Adieu
Finally, before signing off for the week, we would be remiss if we didn't mention the passing of Phil Stone. As part of the KMOD morning team of "Phil & Brent," which retired from the airwaves in October, Stone had been one of the biggest and longest lasting names in Tulsa radio. Stone passed away Wednesday, Nov. 21, of undisclosed causes. Our condolences and prayers go out to family and friends as we say farewell to one of Tulsa radio's treasures and a great friend to the local music scene.
Send all comments and feedback regarding SoundCheck to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share this article: