Album Review – Blaine Bailey’s ‘ᎣᏪᏅᏒ’ (Home)

There is a golden rectangle in the northeast portion of Oklahoma that encompasses some of the most fertile ground in the United States for birthing music that matters. It includes towns like Okemah where Woody Guthrie was born, Stillwater which gave rise to Red Dirt, and Tulsa where Cain’s Ballroom resides, along with more amazing songwriters than there’s room to list off here. Zach Bryan is from this region as well.

Tahlequah falls within these coordinates too, and gave rise to the Turnpike Troubadours just to start. Country, folk, and folk rock might be what the region is best known for in music, rivaling most any other region in the richness in contributions to country and roots music over the last quarter century and longer. But this golden rectangle also happens to be in the very heart of the Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee Nations. This is Indian land, and the home of one of America’s most vibrant native populations.

All these Red Dirt legends and folk icons from Northeast Oklahoma are just living on top of a legacy that goes much deeper and farther back in the American experience. It was only a matter of time before these two rich cultures inhabiting the same land intertwined to favorable results.

Blaine Bailey is a Native American of Keetoowah heritage who calls Tahlequah home. He grew up going to musical jam sessions with his dad and other elders in the nearby town of Lost City, playing country and Red Dirt music specifically. By the age of 13, Bailey was playing on his own, and released a four song acoustic EP in 2019 while still a teenager. Shortly thereafter, he assembled a band, and now in his early 20s, he’s looking to become the Native American representative that Red Dirt country rock has long needed.

Blaine Bailey’s debut album Home (ᎣᏪᏅᏒ in Cherokee syllabary) is a bold, auspicious, full, rich, and entertaining specimen to authentic Northeast Oklahoma country rock, reminding you of some of the best up-tempo tracks of the Turnpike Troubadours. If nothing else, this album gratifies with its full tilt attitude, while blazing fiddle and steel guitar ground the music in country roots. As a steel guitar player himself, Blaine insists these country sounds remain essential to his rock songs.

The theme on Home and many of its songs is spelled out right there in the title. This album is about Bailey’s sense of place, about leaving it, coming back to it, contrasting it with the big city, and seeing it through the experiences of visiting other regions. Sometimes you have to leave your home to really discover it, or stay away too long before you can appreciate it. Home is a young man figuring all of this out, while figuring out some things about himself along the way.

Bailey will be the first to tell you that songwriting is not what comes easiest to him in music. Sometimes it’s difficult to pick up on what he’s trying to communicate in his songs, not always because of the writing, but sometimes because his tone doesn’t naturally punch through the music, and the music doesn’t always center his vocals in the mix. But you’re never left wanting because the music always carries the song.

Home only brushes by Blaine’s experience as a Native American, until he gets to the song “T-Shirt” where he uncorks and says his peace, speaking about the broken promises, and bad blood many Native people feel towards the United States due to the treatment they’ve experienced historically.

The FX show Reservations Dogs is not Yellowstone, but it might as well be for the folks in Northeast Oklahoma. Blaine’s song “Cigarettes and Roses” was featured in Season 3, and along with other Native American songwriters from the region like Samatha Crain, it’s creating a conduit of attention to these worthy artists who heretofore have not always been openly welcomed into the Red Dirt scene of the region.

The music of Blaine Bailey could change all of that though. Frankly, Home is served with the kind of punch you often wish some of your other favorite Red Dirt bands would put behind their music, while still exhibiting some upside potential since he’s such a young performer. There is a lot to love about Blaine Bailey and Home, while underscoring how Northeast Oklahoma isn’t just home to some great music, but home to one of America’s most proud Native populations.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.2/10)

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