Oklahoma: A Hotbed of Music Talent & Tradition
Somewhere between the big T’s of Texas and Tennessee and just west of the Deep South, Oklahoma sometimes gets overlooked in appreciations of American music. But a century after Woody Guthrie was born there, the state continues to be a wellspring of tradition-based talent and hotbed for new sounds.
Look at recent Americana charts and you can’t miss the growing presence of Oklahoma artists. There’s the unflinchingly raw songwriting of John Moreland, a DIY upstart who made the jump to influential British label 4AD for last year’s Big Bad Luv. There’s the country rock of Turnpike Troubadours, whose two straight Billboard Top 5 country albums earned a coveted Austin City Limits TV segment. There’s former Troubadours member John Fullbright, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who’ll bring a cast of his friends to SXSW this year as part of a Tulsa music showcase.
Work outward from the core and the picture gets even broader and more intriguing. Parker Millsap is a fire-and-brimstone shouter whose apocalyptic tunes such as “The Very Last Day” (the title track to his 2016 Americana chart-topper) burn with gospel-infused fury. J.D. McPherson, who’s made records for influential indie labels Rounder and New West, digs into rockabilly grooves to harken back to the R&B-heavy days of early rock ’n’ roll. Samantha Crain, a Native American singer-songwriter who made her first record a decade ago as a teen, turned toward indie-pop on last year’s You Had Me At Goodbye and recently has been producing, working with Okie upstarts Annie Oakley and Kierston White.
Add the likes of soulful singer Audra Mae, country-folk rambler Wink Burcham, Moreland’s accomplished sideman John Calvin Abney, sweet-voiced Carter Sampson and many more waiting in the wings, and you see that Oklahoma is in the midst of an Americana boom.