At last, the promise we've always seen in John Fullbright is signed, sealed, delivered and certified in his first full-length studio album, From the Ground Up. Having seen Fullbright solo and duo the last two years and loving the starkness of his windblown Leon Russell Okie plaint, hearing him with a full band behind him is an ear-opening experience.
Who knew that the young Okie could growl like Hayes Carll?
The album certainly serves more notice of what we've been saying about this guy since we first saw him at a writers-in-the-round at Mucky Duck a few years back: He's a songwriting genius. Bar none.
Mentored by the likes of Jimmy Webb, Fullbright can open a vein with tunes like "I Only Pray at Night" or "Me Wanting You," and "Satan and St. Paul" is filled with Townes van Zandt-isms galore like "I could use another twenty years / To fix the last fifteen." He stands toe to songwriting toe with Carll, Jason Isbell and Joe Pug when it comes to wise wordsmithing.
We caught up with him in Okemah, Oklahoma, where he was packing his stuff for a run to Houston.
Rocks Off: We've seen you several times and may not have noticed it, but on the record you seem to have an unexpected sort of Hayes Carll growl.
John Fullbright: Maybe Hayes has a John Fullbright growl.
RO: Another thing we hear is a Leon Russell thing, both vocally and in your piano playing.
JF: A lot of people tell me that. I'm not saying I stole any licks from Leon although, of course, I've listened to him for a long time.
RO: You have that same dry, Oklahoma timbre that Leon has, and that kind of cracking-up thing on the high notes sometimes that works but you can't really say why it works.
JF: So what you're saying is I have a really shitty voice, I guess.
RO: How about distinct?
JF: No, I know what you mean. Part of it is regional accent, part of it is just how my voice is, part of it is probably hangover-related or something.
RO: Well, we noticed that item in the liner notes where you thanked all the Okie musicians and mentors who convinced you to use your own voice.
JF: Yeah, I never thought of myself as a singer. But I think I've learned to put my songs across in my own voice. I've had to work at singing and the self-confidence thing.
RO: The record is the first time most of us have heard you in a full band setting. Is that something you're building towards?
JF: I did three gigs last month with a band, some CD-release gigs. We did a full band at the Continental in Austin.
RO: Do you like it or would you rather go acoustic?
JF: I really like it. I could tell we got a little better each time, and it is a lot of fun. Of course, with some of my songs, the guys just get to stand there and kinda watch me.
RO: Are you solo Friday night?
JF: No, I'll have Terry "Buffalo" Ware with me.
RO: What was your idea going into the studio about instrumentation, players, etc.?
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JF: We consciously tried not to go for any one style or sound. We found out pretty quickly that some of those songs go well with a bigger, crunchier band style, but some of them are still pretty sparse and minimal. But the songs dictated rather than vice versa.
8 p.m. tonight at Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant, www.andersonfair.com.