July 13, 2014 by Jay Minkin
It’s time for the mid-summer classic and many well deserving artists deserve their day in center field. In 2012, John Fullbright released his debut record From The Ground Up that brought much love to the twenty-four year old singer/songwriting phenom hailing from Okemah, Oklahoma. Honored with my Male Artist of the Year selection, this firecracker kid with a piano, guitar and harmonica hit stages across the country playing a roaring set of original tunes. After receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album, there was a lot riding on the sophomore follow-up record. Would Fullbright be a flash-in-the-pan or could he deliver the goods and crank out another dinger?
There more you listen to Songs, a collection of twelve compositions (nine on the vinyl Lp), you understand that the torch has been passed into good hands. From the same hometown as the iconic Woody Guthrie, Fullbright grew up listening to records from his family’s diverse and treasured collection. When old enough to make the drive, John would head an hour west to Oklahoma City to The Blue Door concert club and see all the songwriters that played the venue. The club’s founder, Greg Johnson, was so taken by the young man’s talent after hearing him perform that he offered to manage Fullbright and help open doors with his connections.
Once again produced by Wes Sharon on Blue Dirt Records, Songs is filed with emotions and stories of good times and bad. Some backed by a lone guitar or piano. Others rock with an electric organ and full band. But out front is always John Fulbright’s voice. From the opening track “Happy” with a whistling bridge and the lover’s lament “When You’re Here”, Fullbright catches the listener’s attention. Two solo ballads, the acoustic “Keeping Hope Alive” and piano backed “She Knows” are lead-ins for the gorgeous “Until You Were Gone”. Probably the big hit single opens the flip side with “Never Cry Again” with the chorus of “Take my hand so we don’t get lost, I spent the coin I used to toss, And never knew what luck would cost, Until I bet the end.” Shades of Steve Earle can be heard on “Going Home” and two slow ballads “The One That Lives Too Far” and “High Road” close out the set. Unfortunately the beautiful guitar picking “Write A Song”, the gospel ballad “All That You Know”, and sobering closing number “Very First Time” didn’t make it to vinyl, so you will have obtain the digital download or compact disc to hear these gems.
Fullbright is not your typical three yards and a cloud of dust rock and roll outlaw. Maybe he is more like a fine wine, just as he sits on the stairs cradling a glass in the stark black and white photograph that adorns the album’s cover. It’s not fair to make comparisons so early in his career, but Fullbright is building a catalog from the ground up and Songs will be remembered as timeless. He is the true essence of a songwriter, comfortable alone out front singing to you in a club or your living room. Oklahoma should be proud of their favorite son representing their state as he tours this summer. The kid can play and is a worthy edition to anyone’s musical all-star team as well as your record collection.