John Statz: Tulsa

Photo: Michael Reilly

Tulsa speaks to more than the desolate environs its sound sometimes suggests.

John Statz


Label: Self-released
US Release Date: 2015-03-10
UK Release Date: Import

Six albums in, the larger awareness for Statz’s monumental work remains largely elusive. Perhaps that’s understandable. In a world of distraction where bigger seems to be better and gimmickry and illusion seem to rule, Statz’s evocative ideas and iconic imagery may be a bit too subtle and indulgent to grab notice from a public with only a fleeting attention span. Still, that doesn’t negate Statz’s abilities; lush melodies and a sense of time, space and place dominate his work, creating a sound that stops the listener in his or her tracks and once there, holds them spellbound.

Tulsa, Statz’s latest, is certainly no exception. According to the notes provided on his home page, the album was recorded in Vermont in the midst of an ice storm where intermittent loss of electricity often hampered their rehearsals. A former Midwesterner who now resides in Colorado, Statz is no doubt used to battling the cold, but this particular scenario only seemed to add to the album’s windswept ambiance and its stark sensibility overall. It’s powerful in its sheer simplicity, and an affecting offering overall.

Likewise, it’s no surprise to find fellow troubadour here at the helm, given that Foucault’s solo albums often find him in the same realms, that of late night encounters, candle-lit environs and isolated rural circumstance. Hunkered down with a sympathetic house band -- drummer Billy Conway (Morphine), guitarist Mark Spencer (Son Volt), bassist Jeremy Moses Curtis (Booker T), Foucault on guitars and vocals, Caitlin Canty providing harmonies and Matt Lorenz playing fiddle -- the results are absolutely impeccable, subtle, serene yet striking both in the depth and reflection. There’s a hazy aura of sadness and resignation wafting through much of the album, with the title track, “Old Pro”, “Tannenberg”, “Roadkill Zone” and “Any Town Will Do” evoking a sense of calm and contemplation. It’s an effective blend of the stoic and sublime which effectively sets the scene and becomes all the more vivid as a result.

Regardless, Tulsa speaks to more than desolate environs. “Home at Last” and ”Queen of the Plains” provide an uptick in energy, bringing ready comparisons to Whiskeytown and the Jayhawks in their allegiance to Americana and its mores. Yet, even as the melodies take flight, the themes remain grounded, centering on first person narratives and singular stories that bring the harrowing circumstance home. It’s a rare talent that allows Statz to pierce that third wall and meld this striking imagery down with such a personal perspective. Yet he and his collaborators succeed repeatedly and make Tulsa a rare glimpse at heartland heroes simply struggling to survive.

Ultimately Tulsa unfolds as a descriptive document of shifting moods and dramatic commentary, related with an intimacy and expression that’s both distinctive and telling. Once word gets out, Statz ought to see his profile elevated considerably. More than merely a set of songs, it holds together conceptually, making it the kind of album that figures to be a landmark of sorts in Statz’s still smouldering career. It’s simply that good.


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