Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Album Review: "A Bakersfield Dozen", Stephen David Austin

I've always admired artists who are not afraid to take up a challenge.  As I've come to know, one of the toughest challenges in the world is trying to establish yourself in the music business.  It takes an immense amount of time, patience, perserverance, more patience, dedication, commitment, discipline and top it off with some more patience.  So when I received the promo copy of this album from Kim Grant at KG Music Press, I was curious. 

Stephen David Austin is a California native who is a long-time veteran of the West Coast music scene who has recently released his debut solo album, A Bakersfield Dozen.  Austin has been in the music game for a long time, and this album is a labour of love that catches the listener with brilliant songwriting, first rate musicianship and strong vocals from Austin.  Staying true to California country/Americana roots, Austin takes us on a journey that harkens back to country music of days gone by, mixed wonderfully with the issues of today.  Opening up with "Best Ex I Ever Had", Austin shows us the somewhat humourous side of divorce when things go awry with a somewhat free-spirited woman.  "Heroes and Heroin" is a fairly explicit account of the underside of mega stardom that is not seen by a performers' adoring public.

A staple of fellow Bakersfield resident Merle Haggard's songwriting repetoire was prison, and Austin gives that story royal treatment here with "The Cage", a story of a man who has spent 40 years in prison and finds himself on the outside in a vastly changed world.  The opening bars of "Kansas Ain't in Kansas Anymore" is reminscent of Waylon Jenning's "Closing in on the Fire", and is a great social commentary on what's happening in our big cities today.  An album called A Bakersfield Dozen would not be complete without paying homage to another of it's most famous son's in Buck Owens.  "The Day Buck Owens Died" is a great song capturing the final moments of Mr. Owens and the affect it had on Austin's musical life.  Indeed, the world lost one of its truely greatest artists and originals on that day.

There are two songs that stood out of particular interest to me for two very different reasons.  The issue of bullying is seldom addressed in song.  For most, it's too messy of a subject.  To his credit, Stephen David Austin has written a story song, "The Fat Kid", that perfectly captures the teen angst of the victim, the wrong and hurtful mindset of the bullies, and the equally wrong, yet in this story eventual, final act of vengeance.  Bullying is a subject that invokes a lot of passion in all facets, a subject that has recently come under intense scrutiny and debate ... at least in my native Ontario, Canada.  Austin's story is blunt, the story ends ugly, and he takes no sides in the story.  Excellent, very well written song.

The other song that I loved is the polar opposite of the hate that spills out in "The Fat Kid."  "Bad Dog" is a duet with Austin and his grandson Kayleb, who was not quite two years old at the time of recording.  The joy that grampa has singing and recording a song with his grandson is palpable and shines through on this recording.  It is a piece of work that Austin can be very proud of.  "Bad Dog" is the perfect way to close out the album.

I started this piece by stating my admiration for those who will take on a challenge, no matter which stage of life they may find themselves in.  Stephen David Austin, a longtime music veteran, father and grandfather, of California gathered an A-list group of fellow musicians and produced an album that stands up and stands out in a sometimes crowded music scene.  It is to his credit that this album has seen the light of day.  And it is to the credit of the Americana genre to have been wise enough and inclusive enough to welcome this gentleman to the stage.

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