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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1741

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The Oak Creek Band: XI
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/18/2013)

Intelligent, appealing rock with good writing and attractive vocals can still be found, but it definitely seems to have gone out of fashion on the commercial music pop scene, where robotic vocals and monumentally dumb lyrics are the norm. There are quite a few retro band carrying on the melodic pop tradition, many of them harkening back to a specific time periods and readily showing their source of influence. This week, we have the debut full-length album by a group that also specializes in well-written, high quality attractive rock and pop with an excellent male/female vocal pair. They call themselves The Oak Creek Band, and their new CD is titled XI, not for the number of previous albums, of which there were only some shorter-length EPs, but presumably for the number of songs on the new recording.

The group is co-led by Jenna and Daniel Watters, and their story has a lot of charm: They met in middle school and knew each other through high school, but the first time they actually sang together was for their high school graduation in Sedona, Arizona. After that experience, they began performing as a folk duo whenever they could, which was not very often, due to their distance between them and their respective schools. But they eventually decided to take the plunge as a permanent musical partnership and moved to Denver. They formed a five-piece band revolving around Jenna and Daniels' vocal harmonies and the founding duo's musical association blossomed into marriage. The band toured extensively in the Southwest in 2011 and 2012. Earlier this year, the Watterses and bassist Steve Rogers moved to Nashville and began work on what would become their new CD XI.

Some critics who are quoted in the band's publicity material draw a parallel to late 1970s rock along the lines of Fleetwood Mac of that period, but The Oak Creek Band has a bit more of a folk component to their music, while they still can rock out and frequently can get into an appealing rhythmic groove. The vocals are one of the band's big strengths, with the Watterses taking turns on the lead vocals and often doing harmonies. Their material is largely variations on love songs, but is well-crafted both musically and lyrically. The CD has a number of additional players who may make up the touring band, including Trent Armstrong on drums, and keyboard players Alex Kamm and Adam Grace. The album also features some pedal steel -- it was recorded in Nashville, after all -- plus banjo and a bunch of backing vocalists.

The CD starts off with one of its best tracks, especially lyrically, a song called Pixelated. It's a good example of Jenna Watters' appealing vocals. <<>>

Jenna's husband Daniel Watters does the lead vocal on the following track, Same Old Story, which has a bit of a soul-influenced groove to it. The lyrics are an appealing take on the classic theme of being apart from one's lover. <<>>

Their old home state is the subject of the song Arms of Colorado, with Jenna Watters doing the lead vocals. <<>>

Another of the strongest tracks in terms of writing and the band's performance, is a piece called What a Life. <<>>

Somewhat more electric in sound is a tune called Sideways with the Watterses singing duet vocals throughout. <<>>

The fact that the band moved to Nashville seeped into their music on a couple of tracks. The mixture is nicely compatible one on their song called Twilight, with its banjo and steel guitar. <<>>

On the other hand, on Fickle the country influence is way over the top. It's another good piece of writing, but the Nashville cliches are rife. <<>>

The Oak Creek Band's mix of rock and some folk influence is at its best on a track called Words on which the Watterses share vocals and the band provides a tasteful rock setting. <<>>

The Oak Creek Band's name seems rather generic, perhaps like a local rock group. But the ensemble led by Jenna and her husband Daniel Watters embodies an attractive stylistic mix of rock influence, very good songwriting with some folk ingredients, and first-rate vocals and harmonies. Their debut full-length CD called XI is an impressive recording in a genre that has largely disappeared from the commercial pop scene, though it's music that is likely to appeal to more than one generation. It's not flashy or faddish, but it's solid high quality pop rock that is likely to sound just a good a decade from now as it does today.

Our grade for audio quality is about a B-plus. The vocals are well-captured and commendably clean, but some of the instrumentation could have been better recorded, and the CD was mastered like so many others with too much compression, which robbed the music of much of its dynamics.

There's something about the vocal harmonies in a family band that can have particular appeal. Though Jenna and Daniel Watters are spouses, rather than siblings, they nevertheless have had lots of opportunities to sing together since they first started collaborating in high school. That, and their first-rate material, makes XI, by the Oak Creek Band an impressive and thoroughly likeable record.

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