POSTED ON JUNE 19, 2013:
What Comes Naturally
Music flows on new release
Jay Falkner's debut solo album may have seen an official release in April, but it's far from a debut for an artist that's one part songwriter and one part smoking hot guitarist. As a founding member of Marshall City and the leader of South 40, Falkner has plenty of experience in the studio and on the stage. In fact, although South 40 didn't play often in Tulsa, the band played regularly during its run and was making headway in Texas. If anything, this "debut" is merely a matter of Falkner finally stepping into the spotlight and not deflecting the focus onto his band mates.
In fact, most of the songs on Falkner's solo disc aren't exactly new, either. South 40 fans should recognize them from live shows as part of the band's sophomore effort, Second Lane that never officially materialized.
"It was kind of weird for me," Falkner admitted recently, "because Second Lane was never officially released. We recorded it and felt really good about it, but it didn't ever get a real pressing. There are a few copies of it floating around out there, but even those were just packaged in a promotional slipcase. We were just starting to get hot in Texas and the wheels just kind of came out from under us."
Looking back, it was a confluence of things that derailed the group. Falkner's father Danny was keyboardist in the band and fell sick. In addition, cousin and guitarist Kodey Toney stepped out of the band to stay home and help take care of his autistic son. That, combined with the fact that the band's sophomore disc never saw an official release eventually contributed to the group's dissolution.
"It was just kind of weird," Falkner explained. "We dumped some money into the record, we had some hype and started doing some things, so we kept playing shows. Then Kodey bowed out and Dad was getting sicker and got to the point where he just couldn't do it anymore.
"It was kind of ironic, because two years ago, I was meeting with some folks and they were more interested in a solo thing than a band project," he reflected. "But I wasn't interested, because it was a family thing. I was playing with my dad and my cousin and was a family band. I was playing a show one night near the end, though, and it just wasn't the same.
"Don't get me wrong," Falkner reiterated. "The last couple of renditions of South 40 were some great musicians and great guys. I was playing that last show, though, and looked around and realized there really wasn't anyone left but me. That's when I thought 'What's the point if it's not a family thing?' There's no point to it, so I started strategizing with management on what to do next. I remember calling Colby (Cook, bassist) and saying 'It's time to do something different.'"
The thing is, Falkner already had Second Lane in the can, but it had never been released. The group hadn't even released a single to be promoted. Initially, Falkner was inclined to leave the material behind and move on.
Second Lane was, however, the last thing his father had recorded and played on, and that very well may have been part of the hurdle Falkner had to get past.
"Colby Cook was the guy that talked me into doing anything with it," Falkner explained. "Dad was a special kind of guy and Colby said 'This was the last thing that Danny Falkner played on and the last thing we did as a band, we've got to do something with it.' Colby put it all in context and he was right."
With that focus, Falkner eventually went in to re-record the tracks and put them in a new context while still paying homage to his late father. As a result, Falkner's solo album is both the close of a chapter in his life and career and the beginning of a new one.
Second Lane was distinctly focused as a country album, but anyone who knows Jay Falkner knows that's merely one aspect of his writing and playing. "I always felt like, artistically, I was on the fringes of a few different movements," he explained. "There will always be a part of me that's country. TJ McFarland has laughed at me and said, 'All these songs by Jason Aldean and those guys sound like just a story, but it's really your life.' At the same time, my parent were old hippies, so I was always into deep roots and blues and jam bands -- stuff like the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead -- and my uncles were all about the southern rock bands like Marshall Tucker and Pure Prairie League, so that's all a part of me. And as a guitar player, I've always been into people like Hendrix and Albert Lee.
"Honestly, I've probably hurt my career by over thinking it," he shared. "I always thought with South 40, this is going to be a country band, so I left out the blues or the southern rock or the jam band. I think I would mistakenly back myself into a corner and leave out the other facets of my playing and my sound."
That all changes with Falkner's self-titled solo album. Although he kept the foundation of the songs by building around his father's keyboard tracks, one Falkner went in to re-record and reproduce the tracks, the reins were cut loose and he allowed himself to play more naturally. As a result, the songs open up with more layers. Yes, the country foundation is still there, but there are more blues underpinnings and the southern rock vibe rises to the top. "Home" is primed and ready for country radio while "Take It as It Comes" is built for blues bars and honky-tonks and "Susanna" remains a touching ballad that recalls the Allman Brothers' "Melissa" while "Second Lane" has become a rousing roadhouse rocker.
Overall, Falkner has taken a fistful of already strong songs and only made them stronger by letting go of his self imposed restrictions and letting himself do what comes naturally. Especially in a climate that has seen genre lines blur or be erased, Falkner's country, blues and jam band tendencies all coexist perfectly without sounding forced. If anything, the songs sound more natural and at ease than ever while Falkner's strengths -- both in his guitar playing and vocals -- rise to the top.
Although the album was released initially in April, Falkner has been taking his time putting together his new band and strategizing for the future. He rolls out both the album and the band this Friday night, June 21, with a CD release show at Red Dirt Dance Hall featuring players like long time partner Daniel McElroy on drums, Phil Zoellner on keyboards and Brandon Autry on guitars and lap and pedal steel. Philip Zoellner Band will open the show at 9:30pm and Falkner will take the stage around 11pm, blurring genre lines and intermingling blues, rock and jam into his country foundations.
This is merely the opening shot for Falkner as he eyes a single release to Texas radio at the end of the summer and continues to set up the album with a live video shoot this Friday night to accompany the clip that has already been produced for "Home."
Although Falkner has always put out quality music, his newfound freedom only brings his strengths to light. And although Tulsa hasn't seen much of him since he moved back to Panama, OK after Marshall City dissolved, his musical roots are rooted as more in Tulsa's history of Leon Russell, Shelter Records and JJ Cale as they are in country or any other genre.
"I kind of feel like when I left, people thought I shunned the Tulsa music scene and that's not the case," Falkner told me. "I just went home. Especially now, my entire band is from Tulsa and I'm proud to wave the Tulsa banner. I may live closer to Fort Smith, but Tulsa will always be my musical home."
Ultimately, regardless of what genre label gets stuck to his music or where he's located, this is the direction that will lead Falkner to his destiny. It may only be the opening of the chapter, but the ease and honesty of Falkner's songs and playing ring through brighter than ever has he continues to play what comes naturally. Don't miss him when he plays Red Dirt Dance Hall this Friday night, June 21.
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After a couple of relatively lazy weeks, Tulsa's music scene is exploding again this week with shows big and small, from touring acts to local CD releases. You can check the events calendar for full listings, but we've got the highlights to get you started out the door right here, so read on and choose wisely as you plan your week ahead.
Thursday, June 20
Kick off your weekend early with a full night of indie rock as Good Morning Grizzly holds a CD release party at Vanguard with Foreign Home and After Midnight opening the night. Or if you're feeling a little risqué, don't miss the monthly Boomtown Burlesque at IDL Ballroom with Olivia Duhon providing the appropriately sultry tunes. And if you want to rock out, don't miss the Nothing More CD release show at The Shrine.
Friday, June 21
Turnpike Troubadours returns to Cain's Ballroom with American Aquarium for one of the best Americana-rock shows of the week. Afterwards, you can roll over to Mercury Lounge to check out Milkdrive or head out to Red Dirt Dancehall for Jay Falkner's CD release with Philip Zoellner Band opening. If you want something bigger, Sheryl Crow arrives at The Joint behind her latest single, "Easy," and in advance of a new country album that is due before the end of summer. And if you want something more personal, Wink Burcham kicks off two nights at The Church to celebrate the release of his new acoustic CD.
Saturday, June 22
If you didn't catch Wink Burcham on his first night (or if you need a reprise), you have another chance on Saturday at The Church. Meanwhile, Vanguard hosts "Girls at the Rock Show" with For the Wolf, Sleepwalking Home, Sovereign Dame, Spank and Hey Dollface while David Castro Band plays a homecoming show at Hunt Club. Down at 18th and Boston, Brandon Jenkins returns to Mercury Lounge and Eric Sardinas delivers a night of smoldering blues at Shrine.
Sunday, June 23
Guthrie Green hosts the OCCJ "Unity Concert" with Eric Himan (who has an amazing new album, Gracefully, completed) along with Brian Williams and Dorothy Stone & Friends. Afterwards, roll over to Hunt Club to get your grove on with Move Trio.
Monday, June 24
Mercury Lounge is the place to be with Rusty Maples bringing the tunes.
Tuesday, June 25
Billy Idol brings a night of hits (and long time partner Steve Stevens) to The Joint and Jason Ferguson plays his home turf at Hunt Club.
Wednesday, June 26
The week wraps up as Smile Empty Soul arrives at Vanguard with Boy Hits Care, The Secret State and local openers, Cize.
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