If you need bona fides for your honky tonk, local roots rocker Wink Keziah's got 'em in spades.
"The first time I met my daddy was through a chain-link fence" at Lincolnton's Correctional Center, says Keziah, where his old man served time for shooting Wink's granddad five times. Now 47, Keziah grew up hard in North Charlotte's Thomasboro neighborhood, and that upbringing informs his latest release, Working Songs for the Drinking Class (Jan. 22 on Great South).
Produced by Mark Stuart of The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash at Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium and engineered by Charlotte fixture Mark Williams (James McMurtry, Southern Culture on the Skids), the record blends Bob Wills' West Texas honky tonk, Buck Owens Bakersfield boogie and old school outlaw country into a mix that's earning props in No Depression, Harp and Southeast Performer for its well-executed songs and authentic ring.
Keziah released his first solo record with Delux Motel in July 2005, but this isn't his first time at the dance. He did stints with regionals like the Rollin' Tumbleweeds (14 years worth), pre-Drive-By Truckers' Adam's House Cat, and six years with the Houdauls before walking away from music for five years.
But Keziah says the songs just kept coming until he could no longer ignore them -- "they just kind of bother me until I do something with them" -- and returned determined to take his music to the next level. He says he's spent $250,000 rekindling his career with prestigious L.A.-based NorthStar Entertainment for management, high-profile publicists and over 150 road dates last year. Working Songs alone ate $35,000, he says.
But two-inch tape and high-profile PR goes only so far, especially on the discriminating Texas honky tonk circuit where Keziah and his band have enjoyed some of their best successes. Then it's not hard hearing why. "As Long as It Ain't Here" recounts the slow death of this region's mill towns; disc opener "I Can't Stop" is anti-cheating honky tonk; "You're Talking About Me" channels a Johnny Cash train shuffle; "That Ain't Me" is a tribute to Buck Owens written after his 2006 passing; and "A Hot Woman and A Cold Beer" is, well, self-explanatory.
"I really wanted the record to be fun when it needed to be, sad when it needed to be sad, and I needed it to paint something that you wanted to touch," says Keziah.
He got help from local luminaries like Robin Rogers and Cast Iron Filter's Mike Orlando, but credits his latest band mates -- two-thirds of whom he put together through Bandmix.com -- with raising his game. After auditioning handfuls of musicians, Keziah says this unit -- guitarist Jeffery D. Fincham, drummer Philipp Barry and bassist Ken Keicher -- is peaking after playing together over the last 60 shows.
"Our live show smokes, and I'm not just saying that because I'm my own worst critic," he says. "But these guys make me look good -- they're that good."
You can judge for yourself this Friday, Jan. 11, when Keziah hosts the Honky Tonk Revival at the Neighborhood Theatre, also featuring Ken Will Morton & The Wholly Ghosts, Hick'ry Hawkins and Jem Crossland & The Hypertonics.
New Year, New Rekkids: With the December release doldrums in the rear-view mirror, the year's new music begins trickling in, and with it hosts of CD release parties. Singer/songwriter Perry Fowler drops his debut EP, Perry Vs. the Red Robot, on Friday, Jan. 11 at Smokey Joe's, with Chris Gervais and The Lights, Fluorescent on the under-card; speaking of TLcommaF, they unveil their debut, Neoteny, Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Milestone with Harvard and more TBAs supporting ... also just out or coming soon, discs from: recent Concord transplant and anti-Folk hero Paleface and his NYC band, Just About to Burn (A Different Story) and Lindy Dobbins & the Red Velvet Manx (Power of One); and in February Bullship (the 15th) and L.A. Tool & Die (the 22nd -- stay tuned to this space for more info on both shows).
Make Mine a Double: "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker," wrote Ogden Nash, and you'd have to be extraordinarily plastered to argue otherwise. The powers-that-be at the Neighborhood Theatre are conceding the point, as they've announced that concert-goers may now enjoy a full-service bar instead of just beer and wine at the venue's gigs. The Theatre is now a "membership only" venue, too, which sounds more exclusionary than it is. You can download the short membership application form at their Web site (www.neighborhoodtheatre.com), and that plus an I.D. card will take care of business when you attend your next show at the NoDa venue. Apply all the usual caveats re: drinking responsibly, etc.