You might not have known it, but Oklahoma City was the place to be this past Sunday night. More specifically, Beer City Music Hall in downtown OKC was the destination, with the feature attraction being a triple bill of Joshua Ray Walker, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers and Aaron Vance.
I hadn’t had a chance to see Joshua Ray Walker in a couple of years, but he’s certainly stayed busy, with a pair of new albums since the last time, as well as putting together a ridiculously good band. I’ve been really fortunate to see Walker open for a slew of touring artists over the years. In each of those instances, he’s performed a solo acoustic set, so I was pretty excited to check out an “electric” JRW set now that he’s much more established. I wasn’t disappointed. Walker settled in front and center, brandishing a beautiful Telecaster that sounded even better than it looked. Rounding out Walker’s top notch band The Texas Strangers, are touring and session vets, Adam “Ditch” Kurtz on pedal steel, Billy Bones on bass and Trey Pendergrass on drums.
I was interested to hear how Walker’s songs, which I only really knew in their acoustic arrangement; would sound in a full band presentation. I was immediately impressed. Whether it was “Dallas Lights”, Sexy After Dark” or “Flash Paper” from See You Next Time, “Bronco Billy” and “Boat Show Girl” off of Glad You Made It or “Lot Lizard” from Wish You Were Here, everything sounded really good. More importantly, The songs sounded “natural” in this state, as though it was how they were originally intended. Maybe so, and even if that’s not the case, I’ve enjoyed seeing his music take this progression so far. Whether it’s acoustic or backed by his band, Walker has a smooth, (again natural) vocal delivery that seems to make even his yodel effortless.
In a world where you have someone like Robert Earl Keen in the midst of retiring, and add in heartbreaking losses of so many great songwriters recently, it’s reassuring to see someone like Joshua Ray Walker stepping forward and moving country music forward. His three State Fair Records releases form a 3-volume concept album of sorts and well, that’s outlandishly country cool in my opinion. Check him out and decide for yourself. You can find everything you need visiting Joshua Ray Walker right here: http://www.joshuaraywalker.com/
Sharing the headline billing, and finally making their debut in OKC was North Carolina based Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. I was super excited for this one, having come across the band’s sophomore release, Years, just after it released, before back-tracking in their Bloodshot catalog for Sidelong. I then caught up with the most recent Thirty Tigers album, Nightroamer. These have been albums that I keep going back to again and again, each time finding a new nuance and/or favorite. Shook’s songs have a type of versatile quality in that, often a song of hers can hit me differently. A fresh listen might provoke a different perspective from a previous one. Deeply personal songs always seem to do that for me and I have a tough time shaking them out of my head.
The Disarmers became a band I really wanted to see live, but it just didn’t seem like it was working out. I missed a Tulsa show because I was already scheduled to photograph another show. Then Covid hit, and you know. So yeah, I was really excited about this one. The Disarmers are comprised of Blake J. Tallent on guitar, Casey James on pedal steel and guitar, Jack Foster on drums and Chloe Babbes Brown on bass. It’s essentially a completely new line-up flanking Shook, these days, Back in March of this year, original Disarmers guitarist Eric Peterson stepped away from the band to address some issues with his arm that was affecting his playing. In a lot of way this current line-up actually reminded me a bunch of another band that went through a similar fresh start. Back when I first saw American Aquarium in 2018, BJ Barham’s band had just completed a full turnover too. That night’s line-up with a couple of changes since, now represents what I know to be American Aquarium. The Disarmers could be following a similar trajectory. They’re a fine-tuned barn-burner type of band. You know the kind. That kind of band that can roll into your town, plug in, play their asses off whether it’s for 50 or 500 people, end up stealing your heart and then they’re gone to the next city or town. Hopefully we get ’em back sooner than later. This night, they blazed through song after song just getting better and better. Out of the nearly two dozen I’d volunteer “No Mistakes,” “It Doesn’t Change Anything,” “Fuck Up,” “Dwight Yoakam,” and “New Ways to Fail” as my highlights. Shook and the Disarmers are a fun band. As a photographer I loved photographing them. There was a “good” energy up on the stage while the Disarmers played, and that’s always contagious. I hope I managed to capture just a bit of that in the photos I snagged.
They’re wrapping up this current run with JRW this week, so keep your eyes peeled for new dates for Sarah Shook and the Disarmers here: https://www.disarmers.com/
Opening up this run of dates was Mississippi native Aaron Vance. I hadn’t heard of Vance before, but the opening slot has always been a great way to discover a new band, and this wasn’t any exception. Turns out Vance is a damn fine traditional and contemporary county with a lot of potential. With a charismatic presence, a homespun demeanor and with a strong country voice, Vance is one to keep an eye on. I enjoyed his set, particularly “Most Beautiful Boots” and “Shifting Gears.” Vance has a current release titled, Cabin Fever which is available through Windy Holler Music. You’ll be able to find much more information on Vance by visiting his website here: http://aaronvance.us/index.html
Lastly, Beer City Music Hall is Oklahoma City’s newest mid-size venue, and is situated on the outskirts of Bricktown or downtown. This was my first visit, and hope to see several more quality shows grace it’s stage. For now, they’ve been booking an impressive and diverse variety of talent while providing a friendly new tour stop for bands in a city that’s lately been too strangely silent as far as national touring bands go. Definitely check in on their calendar if you’re in the vicinity. https://beercitymusichall.com/