I have a theory that I've discussed many times over the years with a variety of musicians: A good song is a good song -- it can stand on its own, regardless of how it is presented. It may be a presented as a pop or R&B song, but if it is solid, it can be stripped down to an acoustic guitar or piano and vocal and still exist as a solid song, then be rebuilt in a new style to create something different, yet still remain strong.
Perhaps those who understand and exercise this best are the basic singer/songwriters who compose their songs around simple arrangements. Tulsa has always been home to great songwriters, but over the past few years, we have seen a fresh wave of young songwriters in the likes of Zeke Duhon, Chase Stites (who relocated to Florida over the past year), Oscar Charles and Apollo (who have been away at school), and now J.B. Kingsley.
J.B. Kingsley is presented as a band project, but at its core, it is the songwriting outlet for Jake Butts, a 20-year-old Tulsa native and Union H.S. graduate who is preparing to start his junior year at T.U. as an energy management major with a minor in music.
Although you may not be familiar with the name, Butts has been active within the local music scene for the past four years. When delving into his musical history, Butts doesn't want to go too far.
"I was in a band in high school, but we'll just leave it unnamed," he admitted. "It was fun, but we weren't very good."
That band ended as Butts graduated from Union in 2011, and he has spent the past two years keeping active by playing guitar for Zeke Duhon and filling in, usually as bassist, for bands like After Midnight and Big City Pilgrim.
Amidst playing with others, however, Butts has continued to write and develop his own material. After beginning to record in 2011, he had finished ten songs when he decided he didn't like the direction it was going. Of those tracks, he took five away from those sessions and decided in 2012 to rerecord them. It was in early 2013, however, that he got focused and decided it was time to record and release a CD.
Whereas Butts admitted that he wasn't happy with the original recordings because the songs didn't all fit together stylistically, with his debut, EP, he has packaged five tightly knit tunes that all tie together as a semi-acoustic disc that allows his lyrics and songwriting to stand front and center, and therein lies the disc's strength.
When discussing influences, Butts openly shares that he grew up on a healthy diet of '90s rock: Alice in Chains, Audioslave, Nirvana, and even Mudhoney were constantly in the background, but he most naturally gravitated to the melodic rock and hooks of artists like Tonic, Dishwalla, Oasis, and Third Eye Blind while developing a love for acts like Airborne Toxic Event, Bright Eyes, Dave Matthews Band and Brand New. Granted, that's a broad cross-section of artists, but it's also a broad resource to draw from and Butts has drawn from each without mimicking any of them to create his own voice.
That voice finally gets a chance to stand out with five tracks that Butts has groomed into a fitting introduction to his vision as a songwriter. "Her Smile" stands out mid-disc as an uplifting, mid-tempo acoustic pop tune and centerpiece of the disc. The piano-driven ballad "Our Place" closes the disc, a song that Butts originally wrote when he was 16. As such, the disc collects songs written over the span of a few years, with Butts admitting that "Sunshine in June" took three years to finish, as he started it going into a relationship and finished it as the relationship ended. Even so, his patience in developing the songs has resulted in an incredibly solid debut.
J.B. Kingsley's CD release party will be held this Friday evening, August 16 at Foolish Things (1001 S. Main Street) at 7:30pm. It's a free show with doors at 7pm and music beginning at 7:30pm with The Lonelys opening and Zeke Duhon as the featured guest. J.B. Kingsley will headline the night with Butts accompanied by Olivia McGraw on violin, Paul Humphrey on piano and guitar, Nicholas Foster on drums, and Craig Delammermore on bass. Don't miss out on an opportunity to see what kind of talent Tulsa is developing with its next generation of musicians and pick up a copy of J.B. Kingsley's debut disc.
When Gary Allan comes to Tulsa, it's nearly always a sold out show. Since Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opened up, Allan has visited three times: first packing out the nightclub for a shoulder to shoulder show, then selling out The Joint in his following two visits.
Part of what makes Tulsa react so well to him is the fact that he is able to pair heartfelt, personal lyrics that strike everyone in the heart with a high energy show. Allan comes across as an everyday man: the guy you work with, the guy you kick back and have a beer with, and the guy that you've walked through both good times and bad with, and that makes his fans embrace him all the more.
In an age where all country artists are embracing big production, but most come off as pop artists riding the country bandwagon, Allan remains true to his roots. That's not to say he doesn't have a distinctly rock edge to his delivery, but he's found that magical balance that very few seem able to master. As Allan's current tour brings him back to The Joint this Friday night, I was able to catch up with him and ask just how he has managed to find that balance.
"I grew up on very traditional country music, Ernest Tubb, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens," Allan said. "Those are the guys my Dad played and what I learned to play in the bars, but I also had a love of punk and rock music. I grew up with the Bakersfield Sound literally in my backyard. However, I also loved the sound of a rock guitar. I wanted a little of both in my music, without breaking away from my roots. Country music is what I love and I want you to be able to identify that when you hear my music."
Although his career has already spanned 16 years, it feels like Allan is just now hitting his stride. His 2005 album, Tough All Over, written and recorded after the death of his wife, set the stage for his career to reach a new level as his lyrics hit even harder and people related to them even more. From there, each album has continued feel even more personal, even when using outside writers. With his latest album, Set You Free, Allan seems to have turned a corner with more positive tone and message, overall.
When asked about the personal nature of his songs, Allan stated, "I've always tried to sing songs that I have actually lived; whether someone else wrote them or I wrote them."
In addressing Set You Free specifically, he shared: "You can pretty much pick up any of my albums and somewhat tell where I was in my life at that point. With this album, I am in a good spot and I think that shows. It is tough to put everything on display, but music is a form of therapy and a way to heal. It has helped me through some very dark moments in life."
With this album, however, Allan took even greater control as he worked with a handful of producers, co-produced with Mark Wright, used his road band in the studio for the first time and even sequenced the album himself.
When asked about those changes and how they affected the flow of the album, Allan stated "I've always been a co-producer on my stuff with Mark Wright. For this album, we just decided to mix things up a bit. Mark and I did a third of it, we brought in Jay Joyce to do a third of it and then I brought in my band and co-produced that part with my long-time engineer, Greg Droman. I had a pool of songs I had collected and I let each team pick which ones they wanted to cut and Greg and I did the last batch with my band. Once everything was finished, I listened for a while and it started to play like a break-up. The songs went through all the emotions from heartbreak to healing, so that is the way I sequenced it. In the end, I was happy with the whole process."
The effort paid off as the album immediately shot to the top of the country and billboard album charts. As for his relationship with being something special, though, Allan stated "I have a great fan base in the Tulsa area and when we book a show here, they come out ready to party. We've played The Joint several times and I'm pretty sure it is always sold out."
Allan returns to another packed house at the Joint this Friday night to continue his relationship with that Tulsa audience. As of press time, only a few tickets remain for what will undoubtedly be another sold out show.
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It's no surprise to anyone that even as the temperatures cool off a touch, the concert calendar continues to heat up. This is a busy weekend for music fans, especially if you love country. As always, we've got the highlights to get you headed out the door, so start out with one of these, then keep digging to catch our music buzz.
Thursday, August 15
Reverend Horton Heat returns to Cain's Ballroom with Wayne "The Train" Hancock and Deke Dickerson for a great night of rockabilly and guitars. If you're in more of a retro-'90s mood, you can always hit the "Under the Sun" tour with Smashmouth, Sugar Ray and Gin Blossoms at The Joint, or you can get your rock fix at Shrine with John Wayne & the Pain.
Friday, August 16
Casey Donahew Band returns to Cain's Ballroom, Clay Walker headlines River Spirit Event Center and Thomas Martinez plays Red Dirt Dance Hall, so you can take your pick to get your dose of country. Meanwhile, Randall Shreve & the Side Show brings a killer show to Vanguard, Mercury Lounge rocks with Mad Max & the Wild Ones with The Deadstring Brothers and J.B. Kingsley holds a CD release party at Foolish Things with Zeke Duhon and The Lonelys opening.
Saturday, August 17
The big show of the night is Gary Allan at The Joint for a show that will certainly sell out, while Aaron Watson brings his brand of country to Red Dirt Dance Hall and Mercury Lounge hosts Max Stalling. Meanwhile, Cain's Ballroom hosts the 10th Annual Blues Challenge and The Normandys rock The Yeti. The show to be at, however, is the return of Andy Skib at Shrine with FM Pilots, Matt Breitzke and Bryan Jewett.
Sunday, August 18
Guthrie Green hosts Ghosts Along the Brazos to enjoy your afternoon, then you can roll over to Hunt Club to catch Randy Brumley on the patio or join the big punk rock show at Vanguard with Against the Grain, Violent Affair and Iron Born (even money says those guys are Game of Thrones fans).
The early week is relatively quiet again, but Wednesday night, August 21, is rocking with a pair of great shows. Cain's Ballroom has the big show with Cold War Kids and Papa for the indie rock crowd. If you're looking for amazing musicianship, though, you won't miss The Aristocrats (featuring Guthrie Govan) with Jason Swanson opening at Vanguard.
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