POSTED ON NOVEMBER 10, 2010:
Palettes of Sound
Popular Culture CD release and Kevin Welch's Patch of Blue Sky among weekend highlights
Back in February, I got a call from Zach Mobley, who slipped me an advance of his latest project, Popular Culture's self-titled debut disc. It immediately impressed and had me looking to the future, but I didn't necessarily expect the band to turn around and hit the studio again so quickly. Here we are, a mere nine months later, and the boys in Popular Culture have turned around to release a new EP, Solid Walls of Sound that impresses even more than the first.
This time out, instead of fusing touches of Nirvana feedback with doses of Fratellis' and Arctic Monkeys' nervous energy, the band reaches back with an even more retro vibe than the debut disc and channels a distinctly Minneapolis vibe on the new six-song EP. Lead track "Does It Freak You Out" made its debut on The Edge's 2010 Homegroan CD, which I reviewed last week, and stands out among the stronger of the indie-rock tracks on the disc.
Fortunately, Popular Culture proves to not be a one trick pony and follows up with the rollicking "Oklahoma Uber-Allies." Mobley is obviously the focal point of the band, leading with his guitar, vocals and lyrics, but don't make the mistake of overlooking the rhythm section of drummer Jason Largent and bassist Jeremy Quaid. Although the band hasn't oversaturated the local scene with its live shows, the time spent together, both playing and writing has seen the band gel quickly and become much tighter in just under a year.
Of course, attention is drawn to the band's unity at least partially because of the new EP's focus. When discussing the disc, Mobley revealed that the group had 10 to 15 tracks written, but these 5 originals (plus a cover of Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets") just seemed to fit together.
Perhaps most impressive to me in that focus is the fact that the band channels a distinct late '80s Minneapolis vibe, drawing on The Replacements, Husker Du, Bash and Pop and early Soul Asylum, without sounding derivative. Once again, the band serves up the kind of hook-and-vibe-oriented sensibilities that allow me to imagine the songs appearing on the soundtrack to a classic John Hughes flick, without discounting the group as some slick wannabe act. It's the same type of vibe I drew from Blue October's History For Sale, just before that band exploded with its break-through disc, Foiled.
That's not to say that Popular Culture is ready to make that huge breakout move just yet, but as the writing and live shows continue to gel, it does make the band one to keep an eye on. Emerging from Hank Charles' Valcour Sound with one of the best sounding indie rock albums that Charles has produced to date only solidifies the band's argument to become one of the key players on the local scene, but it will take more support at the live shows to help the band really make headway locally. If that doesn't happen, the strength of the group's songwriting alone may lead it out of Tulsa and on to a more accepting and open market, but perhaps that's projecting too much.
For now, Popular Culture continues to keep its focus with Solid Walls of Sound, hitting listeners with meaty hooks and lean song structures (none of the originals clock in at even three and a half minutes, most are under three) and leaving them wanting more. It's a wise move that not only helps the songs retain their urgency, but also makes you look forward to what will come next.
Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, though, we ought to sit back to enjoy what's coming at us now and absorb the current disc. This weekend, the band celebrates the new disc with a CD release party at The Marquee on Saturday, Nov. 13. It's a stacked bill that offers six bands for only $6 and features Snorlaxx, La Panther Happens, Rude Amps, Lunar City and The Zekes as well as Popular Culture rolling out everything from Solid Walls of Sound, reaching back to the debut disc and perhaps even surprising with an as of yet unreleased new track.
While some bands concentrate on playing as much as possible, Popular Culture is going another route and quickly proving to be one of the most prolific young bands on the local indie-rock scene. Make sure and check them out now, then keep an eye and ear out to see how the band continues to progress.
A Fresh View
Although the first two shows of the fall season saw sellout audiences for well-known names (Fred Tackett and Paul Barrere of Little Feat, followed by Todd Snider), this Friday night's show with Kevin Welch could prove to be the stealth show of the season, flying under the radar with one of the best songwriters of the bunch.
For those who don't know, Kevin Welch was born in California, but grew up in Oklahoma and has since gone on to a long career as a singer/songwriter. After recording his first album for Warner Brothers records in 1990, a difference between his vision and that of a major label saw him get released from his contract but go on to found Dead Reckoning Records with a group of like-minded friends in 1994.
It proved to be an astute move, as it has since allowed Welch an outlet to release his work while continuing on as a constantly touring songwriter.
Although Welch hadn't released a solo disc since Millionaire in 2001, that doesn't mean he hasn't kept busy.
"I've been making records with a little outfit called Kane Welch Kaplan," he said. "I've done the last three prior albums with them. They're a couple of my best friends and we've been playing together in one configuration or another for years."
After a long run together and an extended break between solo discs, "It just felt like the time to make a solo record. There were things I wanted to try that I couldn't ask the others to do and some things I just needed to get out of my system," he said.
The resulting disc, A Patch of Blue Sky, sees Welch continue in a vein similar to that of another revered songwriter with Oklahoma ties: Jimmy LaFave. Whereas LaFave tends to veer more into traditional Red Dirt territory with country influences, Welch infuses more blues and world-view perspective into his songs. Nevertheless, there is a definite quality which, when connected to his growing up in Oklahoma, often finds Welch categorized as Red Dirt.
"I'm not sure that any of us knows any more what Red Dirt is supposed to be," he said. "I think it's kind of like the term Americana: it's kind of all-encompassing and can mean whatever you want it to."
While the disc opens with a distinctly bluesy touch on "Come a Rain," the rest of the disc carries on with a distinctly intimate and introspective tone. By the time Welch works through "The Great Emancipation," a "Long Gone Dream" and reflection on "That's How It Feels," he emerges on the opposite end of the disc, panoramically waiting on "A Patch of Blue Sky" and a fresh start.
When discussing his recording and touring career, Welch acknowledged that "While the music business is hurting, I've found that the music scene itself is real healthy right now," especially for songwriters like himself that have taken a more independent approach and aren't worrying so much about commercial acceptance. This year alone, Welch has already toured Europe four times, and recently returned from a UK run that took him through Scotland, Ireland and England.
As if his recording and touring schedule doesn't keep him busy enough, Welch has also been hoisting a songwriter's workshop on his property near Austin, Texas. "People have come from all over," he said. "Last week we had two people from Canada, there's a woman coming from England next month, and people are coming from all over the US."
When asked what the workshops focus on, he said, "We spend as much time as possible with each person individually, but there is a lot of groups stuff. We really focus on things like song structure, whereas I concentrate on lyric writing."
When Welch arrives in Tulsa this weekend for a show at All Souls Coffeehouse on Friday, Nov. 12, however, the focus will be squarely on his songs and the new CD. When asked what to expect, Welch said he normally plays the entirety of the new CD, then delves back into his catalogue and even takes a few requests.
"Normally, when you put a new record about a half to a third end up in your live set," he said. "Eventually, I'll probably drop back to that, but right now I'm enjoying learning more about these songs as I play them myself every night."
The shows at All Souls Coffeehouse have been amazing this season and this weekend's show promises to be just as enticing. Make sure to arrive early (doors open at 7pm for the 7:30pm show) or better yet, get your tickets online at ticketstorm.com, before the show sells out.
If you thought last weekend was busy, you haven't seen anything yet. The temperatures may finally be cooling off, but things are just heating up on the live music front and this weekend we've got a little of everything playing around town. There's too much going on to list everything (that's what the live music calendar is for anyway), but you can always count on us to give you the highlights to get you pointed out the door.
Thursday night, Nov. 11, actually feels slower than most weeks, but it's just a matter of where you look. Colt Ford makes an appearance at Cain's Ballroom and Chris Becker fills his standard Thursday evening gig at Colony, but the most promising gig of the night is flying under the radar. If you're a singer/songwriter fan, you won't want to miss Sam Baker at Blue Dome Diner with Jess Klein opening, for a killer show to lead you into the weekend and a great prelude to Kevin Welch's show at All Souls Coffeehouse on Friday night.
Once Nov. 12 rolls around, though, you've got to choose: Tulsa music, young guns or living legend? Or perhaps all of the above? Cover story band 2 Steps Back kicks off the "Red Dirt in the Red Room" series at Sharky's on Brookside while Dustin Pittsley rocks Arnie's and Brandon Clark Band sets things back to normal at the recently re-opened Mercury Lounge.
If you're looking for something a little bigger, OKC native Graham Colton headlines Bob's with our own Ben Kilgore opening. The biggest show of the week, however, is easily the Elton John/Leon Russell co-headliner at BOK Center.
Even though Elton and Leon have a corner on the pop market, country fans will want to focus north to Osage County. A month-long run of great country shows continues this week as Gretchen Wilson, the woman who even started her own label last year, makes a stop at Osage Events Center. Tickets start at only $40.
Saturday night, Nov. 13, offers up a diverse mix of options. Of course, I've already mentioned the Popular Culture CD release at The Marquee, but that's not all that's going on. Other highlights include Fiawna Forte with Green Corn Revival and Town Hall Devils. Also of note on Saturday night is The Tulsa Symphony performing a mix of Mozart, Ravel and Strauss in a program entitled "Virtuosity of Our Own." If you haven't taken in our orchestra, you're missing out on a hidden treasure.
Sunday evening's special treat is a combined house concert/CD release party as Susan Herndon rolls out her new disc, All Fall Down, with Madison Avenue House Concerts. Reserve your seat and get directions by emailing Andrea Martin at email@example.com or calling (918) 760-7756.
Tuesday night sees Matt Costa play Bob's while The Colony features a night of bluegrass with Titanium Sporkchop.
Finally, the week wraps up on Wednesday, Nov. 17, with local country star on the rise Chloe Johns at Baker Street, indie act The Big O Show at Soundpony and Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience at Spirit Bank Arena. Still, my best bet of the night will be Paul Thorn at Bob's.
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