A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. Look for my interview with Dustin Welch closer to his March 29 Oklahoma City show.
Dustin Welch “Tijuana Bible” (Super Rooster Records)
Dustin Welch’s sophomore album, “Tijuana Bible,” bounces his array of musical and literary influences through a series of funhouse mirrors and midway lights.
The tunefully distorted results are as thrilling, dizzying and rough-around-the edges as a spin on a ramshackle Tilt-O-Whirl at the state fair.
The Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s biography says he plays the role of a “wickedly mysterious carnival barker” on the album. Welch, the son of Oklahoma-bred Americana singer-songwriter Kevin Welch, indeed pulls back the curtain on a musical style as mixed-up and unabashedly odd as a sideshow attraction.
The Nashville-born musician penned the boot-stomping opening track, “Ash & Iron,” with his father, and it sets the scene for the darkly evocative poetry that reflects the younger Welch’s interest in the writings of Joseph Campbell, John Steinbeck and William Faulkner.
Welch, 32, wrote or co-wrote all 11 tracks, and he channels his past musical experiences into his literate narratives. His tenure with West Coast Celtic punk band the Scotch Greens clearly influenced the vividly off-kilter yarns “Lost at Sea” and “Jolly Johnny Junker,” while the dusky anthem “Things I Cannot Change” is steeped in old-school country and blues, the kind of music he made with the Nashville band the Swindlers.
Like his first album, 2009’s “Whisky Priest,” “Tijuana Bible” is named after the hand-drawn pornographic pamphlets that were passed around Depression-era work camps. While they have a gritty, almost desperate air that calls to mind that period, story-songs like “Sparrows,” about a Vietnam veteran, and “Party Girl,” an ode to a lonely Hollywood denizen, are timeless in their humanity.
Dustin Welch will bring his musical carnival to Oklahoma City for a March 29 show at the Blue Door. For more information, go to www.bluedoorokc.com.
— Brandy McDonnell