A tight EP of heartland rock from one of Oklahoma’s best songwriters.
Former Cheyenne frontman and filmmaker Beau Jennings is from Norman, Oklahoma, a lively college town south of Oklahoma City with a close-knit music scene. The members of his backing band The Tigers — Chase Kerby (guitar, keyboards, background vocals), Michael Trepagnier (bass), Dustin Ragland (drums), and Chris Wiser (keyboards) — are among the most sought-after journeymen musicians in Oklahoma.
His 2020 album with The Tigers, ‘Thunderbird,’ was fundamentally about returning to his hometown after living and working in Brooklyn and Austin. Coming back to live in the place where you grew up after a lengthy absence can feel like moving to a familiar but foreign country. (The hospital where you were born? Oh, it’s been torn down and replaced by a chain drugstore!) There are similar themes on this EP, especially on ‘Star Skate,’ about a last dance at the local roller rink before it’s torn down with an old flame everyone expected him to end up with. A particularly poignant song for anyone who remembers the ‘70s and ‘80s when skating rinks were packed with young people every weekend and all summer.
There is more of an atmosphere of open space and depth to Jennings’ music with the Tigers than with Cheyenne, possibly influenced by the surrounding landscape while growing up in the northwestern part of the South. Musically these four songs sound like classic heartland rock like Tom Petty or Jeff Tweedy, particularly the opening title track, with jangly indie rock guitar. Jennings’ low croon sounds similar to Chris Isaak’s and Lyle Lovett’s if they had both decided to rock out a bit more. One can’t help but wonder if this new music has benefited from Jennings having a smaller music scene and an extended family and lifelong friends around him in Oklahoma. Like his heroes Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie, along with Springsteen and Dylan, Jennings is more interested in writing about normal life: what’s going on around him and the regular people he knows. He fits well into that tradition of preservation and documentation, as seen in his 2015 documentary about Will Rogers, ‘Verdigris: In Search of Will Rogers,‘ inspired by Alan Lomax’s historic field recordings in the 1930’s. Jennings says, “There can be big thoughts, universal themes, in the everyday small stuff. That’s maybe where most of the truth is. This one is just letting go, having a blast, but always in the background there is that loss, something going away. I guess I’ll never outpace that, but that’s OK, because I’m not sure art without tension really works. That’s my working theory anyway.”
Hopefully this EP will further widen Jennings’ sphere of influence, especially considering how much more talented he is than some of his previous better-known collaborators, and that another full album with The Tigers will arrive in 2022.