June 14, 2017
Zephaniah O’Hora and The 18 Wheelers – This Highway
One of the delights of rummaging around for old vinyl is that you can find music, for a proverbial song, that you wouldn’t normally find and if you’re lucky then the original owner didn’t play it and so it is mint! I captured a Buck Owens Live at Carnegie Hall Concert gem recently and felt it was a real piece of luck as I was transported back to 1966. The same experience came to pass with this delightful release by the improbably named Zephaniah O’Hara with the 18 Wheelers.
With his producer and guitarist, Jim Campilongo, O’Hara recreates the sound of 1960’s Bakersfield and Nashville with an authenticity that would enable you to stick any of the tracks off this record on a Rock-Ola in a 1960’s Honky Tonk and not worry that someone might pick up that 50 years that have elapsed since the machine was loaded with Ernest Tubbs, Loretta Lynn, Red Simpson or Merle Haggard. To emphasis the point the album sleeve is also wonderfully retro.
Originally from that hot bed of Country & Western music (not), New Hampshire, O’Hara plies his trade nowadays in Brooklyn, NY. With his band then you can imagine them occupying a small corner of small bar as folk two-step in front of them.
The sound has that gentle Country & Western feel with pedal steel, from Jon Graboff, providing a beautiful embellishment and the band never pushes but backs the measured tenor of O’Hara. “I Believe I’ve had Enough” hits its stride and we hear O’Hara’s plan to take it easy whilst the guitar picks around him with a gentle honky tonk piano filling the gaps. The pace can vary and “This Highway” takes things down and O’Hara croons his best Jim Reeves. “High Class Girl From The Country” sees Campilongo switch to acoustic whilst the pedal steel takes the melody. O’Hara tells us of her ‘chasing down those dreams and the years show on your face’. The full nine yards of 1960’s Country pathos. “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free)” is a lyrical gem, so dark against a bright and cheerful tune:
The roses I bought are on the floor
You tried to walk out the door,
This gun will keep you here with me,
I can’t let you go, even though I set you free
Needless to say we go on to talk about graves and the presiding judge. A three minute 32 second classic.
Apart from the unnecessary cover of the Sinatras’ “Somethin’ Stupid” with Dori Freeman duetting then these all appear to be original compositions and confirm that O’Hara and Campilongo love this era and sound such, that at a stroke, they could compile this collection. I love it and kudos to Round-Up Records for letting this see the light of day. Tell a friend who likes the old stuff: they will never be able to thank you enough.