Faded Love, Route 66, Bob Wills Is Still The King, Take Me Back to Tulsa, Milk Cow Blues and Miles and Miles of Texas. Just the titles alone paint a vivid picture and tell fabulous stories. Now, add Ray Benson and the fabulous Asleep at the Wheel as the source, and it’s taken to a whole different level. That’s exactly what occured last Thursday night in OKC at the Tower Theatre on 23rd St, which just so happens to be a former stretch of the venerable Route 66 highway system.
Ray Benson, despite his Philadelphia birth, is rightfully treated as Texas Royalty since relocating in Austin in ’73. His western swing ensemble, Asleep at the Wheel has been rolling across Route 66 and just about every other highway since 1970. Is there a band or musician out there that’s done more to keep this style of music alive and relevant? I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Whether Asleep at the Wheel is performing their own compositions, or classics from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Waylon Jennings or others, their sound is distinct and uniquely theirs. There’s been more than 100 members of Asleep at the Wheel over the years, and this particular lineup really seemed to work well together. Benson is joined by Katie Shore on fiddle and vocals, Dennis Ludiker also on fiddle and vocals, Josh Hoag on bass, David Sanger on drums, Eddie Rivers on steel guitar and saxophone, Connor Forsyth on piano and vocals and last but certainly not least, Jay Reynolds on Saxophone and clarinet. That’s a lot of talent crammed up on stage, and it certainly paid off. This band is hot.
Benson is a fun storyteller in addition to a fine musician and bandleader. In between classic hits and songs from the band’s newest release, New Routes on Bismeaux Productions, Benson regaled the audience with history of the songs as well as his multiple interview appearances in the upcoming Ken Burns documentary “Country Music.” After all, as Benson joked, “he’s been there for most of it.”
The band’s entire performance was outstanding, and the set list in and of itself is a living, breathing history lesson of the genre known as western swing. But, as Benson showed, it’s the little diversions he’ll often the that really shine. The band’s version of Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues” was outstanding, and easily a crowd highlight of the evening as was the fun version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” that saw Benson and Katie Shore trading off vocals. Asleep at the Wheel is about to head over to Europe for a bit but, undoubtedly will be returning stateside with more shows on the horizon. Until then, be sure to check out “New Routes” and keep tabs on their website here: https://www.asleepatthewheel.com/
Warming up the stage for the big band this evening, were a pair of Texas songwriters that really shined in their own unique ways. First up was Joshua Ray Walker, his guitar, and another set of superbly written and presented songs. I consider myself fortunate to have caught Walker several times in the past year, dating back to just before the release of his “Wish You Were Here” release on State Fair Records. Each time I’ve found he’s gotten better and better. I was impressed the first and second set I heard, but it’s a different ball game now. There’s a confidence that’s developed that really accentuates his songs and makes them punch you in the emotional gut just a bit harder than the last time. In particular, I was again blown away by the new song, tentatively titled, “How Long” that’s planned for his sophomore release. Keep an eye peeled for this upcoming release; I’m telling you right now that it’s going to be something special. Joshua Ray Walker is also about to head over to Europe where he’s sure to bond with a whole bunch of new fans. Check out his web page for all information here: http://www.joshuaraywalker.com/
Next up was a real treat, singer/songwriter Seth James and his band. Another Texas musician hailing from the windy West Texas ranch country, I found James and his songs original and authentic. A mix of Chris Ledoux, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Delbert McClinton. A real life cowboy, with a touch of blues, soul and wielding a mean guitar. I really enjoyed and came away really impressed by James’ set. The rest of the audience certainly seemed to be enjoying it as well. I wasn’t really familiar with James prior to his set, but I believe most of the songs came from his current release, “Good Life” on Cherry Bomb Records. James was supported by a talented band consisting of Nick Jay on bass, Lewis Stephens on keys, Simon Willats and Steve Sauerwein on horns as well as Chris Doege on drums and Steve Littleton on keys. James’ lyrics covered a lot of ground, but the presentation defiantly remained upbeat throughout. I’ll certainly look forward to an opportunity of catching James again down the road. Find out more by visiting his online residence right here: http://www.sethjames.com/