A curiously ominous plucking of an acoustic guitar is joined by a bulging bassline in the opening dirge “Peace Maker,” from DocFell & Co.’s new album Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma. The lead singer’s discontent with his surroundings is evident in the dark drawl in his voice, but the glare of this bruiser of a bass is keeping us glued to our speakers, powerless to stop consuming this lush musicality being dispensed before us in real-time. Much like “Slim Says,” “Mean Marie” and “Three Chords,” DocFell & Co. aren’t messing around in “Peace Maker,” and its dominant instrumental presence is only a taste of what listeners can expect to find in the whole of Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma. Having lived in the Dust Bowl myself, I’ll be the first to vouch that this record truly captures the essence of its subject matter and the supremely evocative culture that gave it life to begin with, and if you’ve been following this band for a while, you’re going to immediately notice just how sharp an effort their latest release truly is.
Songs like “End of the Line,” “Molly Fields Cemetery,” “Beulah Land” and “Home on the Hill” are all about their utterly divine textures, while other tracks like “In Your Eyes,” “A Different Drum” and “Mean Marie” are a little more straightforward and lyrically-driven. In every instance that we’re presented with in Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma, we’re engaged by the physicality of the music as well as its colorful finish in the master mix, which I must say, is one of the more sophisticated mixes I’ve listened to in the past five years of American country music
To some degree, I feel like labeling this record a pure country album dismisses some of the genuinely moving, abstract emotionality in tracks like “Tough” and “Three Chords,” which flirt with bluegrass and folk music but stay on track with a sleek pop structuralism that prevents the band from devolving into too experimental of territory. DocFell & Co. are Americana through and through, and to call them anything else feels more like a slight of their character than it does an honest attempt to categorize their deeply versatile sound.
Country, folk and rock fans of all ages and backgrounds really can’t go wrong with Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma this spring, and I would particularly recommend any of its enthralling eleven tracks to anyone who has been feeling jaded about contemporary music and the artificiality that has become so prominent on the mainstream side of the dial. DocFell & Co. prove themselves unaffected by the commercialization of roots rock, and instead of veering as far to the left stylistically as they could in hopes of bucking the trends of their peers, they stay even-keeled and issue an album that is both familiar and wildly imaginative from front to back. I’m verifiably hooked on Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma, and I’m more than positive that those who appreciate a dusty old melody getting a modern day makeover are going to agree with me once they give it a spin as well.