There indeed may be a genuine Oklahoma country-rockabilly vibe that incorporates
the traditional country, blues, and vintage tube-amp distortion. But putting
together an entire CD as a tribute to "Oklahoma music" is akin to me trying to
pull one over on the music-buying public with tuneage from my glorious home
state of Ohio and calling it indigenous rock.
Cincinnati, Cleveland, and other spots might boast legitimate "scenes," but for
me to call them music capitals along the lines of Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago,
St. Louis, or Austin? I'd be nuts. Oklahoma is in the same bag. There's probably
fine musicians to be found everywhere in the state, from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.
Mad Dogs & Okies features, among its contributors, Eric Clapton. Last I
checked, he's from England, which – last I checked – is an awful long way from
Oklahoma. Ditto for Peter Frampton. What they have in common is that they're
singing tunes by Oklahoma-born songwriters, and they all presumably know
Tractors founder and veteran touring drummer/producer Jamie Oldaker, who came up
with the idea for this tribute CD.
Setting aside the CD's flismy premise – and acknowledging the fact that Peter
Frampton, JJ Cale, and Eric Clapton's finest hours are but specks in the
rear-view mirror – the music's great, for what it is: experienced, well-polished
musicians putting out tunes that sport enough twang to sound Nashville and
enough rockin' backbeat crunch to remind us what country music was supposed to
sound like before the likes of Garth Brooks and Faith Hill got their hands on
it. Oldaker's production somehow brings out the rootsy elements of every
recording, and despite the wild diversity of artists it all hangs together well.
The Clapton tune, "Positively," actually sidesteps around the angst and hubris
of his recent material with a happy little strolling vibe you can tell he had
fun performing. The Frampton tune, the gospel-drenched "Sending Me Angels,"
actually sounds more listenable than the pop dreck he's put together over the
years. Any tunes recorded by Willie Nelson and Taj Mahal, it's a given they're
cool. Which brings us to Vince Gill, who gets the leadoff spot with "Wait Til
your Daddy Gets Home," a cooking little number with a catchy chorus in
three-part harmony worthy of kicking off the set.
Another side issue this CD brings up: it's funny how, in this digital age,
compilations have become a great way to spread great music…again. Back in the
pre-FM era, radio listeners got exposed to new music on the AM radio, which did
feature some local and regional content but also featured some generic
nationally syndicated stuff. One had to buy compilations on vinyl at the general
store or park your nickels in the jukebox to hear the cool stuff your limited
radio choices didn't offer.
The FM album-rock era blew all those barriers away, and the emergence of public
radio, for awhile, let a lot of great tunes get a lot of airplay whether or not
the record labels issued them as singles or paid off program directors. Radio
truly got good music to the people for a space in time that ended about the time
Seattle musicians put flannel shirts on the map.
Today, compilations offer the same interesting stuff that radio refuses to play.
With Clear Channel and a couple other media conglomerates homogenizing the radio
waves and the ascent of portable MP3 players, many listeners have taken matters
into their own hands and tossed out their radios. Compilations have taken their
place besides Podcasts and Internet radio as cool outlets for music like this.
When you take this into consideration, Mad Dogs & Okies is a pretty cool
little CD, waiting for the alt-country crowd to "discover."
~Mojo Flucke, Ph.D.