When songwriter/bass player RC Edwards of the Turnpike Troubadours slides into your DMs suggesting an artist to you, you listen, especially when half a dozen other folks from Oklahoma are dropping the same name in the ol’ suggestion box. Of course, RC Edwards isn’t entirely an objective 3rd party in this instance. Lance Roark has been playing in Edwards’ side project RC and the Ambers for a while now, and the pair has been writing songs together recently, including a couple that appear on Lance’s brand new 8-song album Better Man.
That’s not the only Turnpike Troubadours connection. Lance Roark’s new album was produced by Hammerin’ Hank Early, a.k.a. Turnpike’s Swiss Army Knife who plays the steel/dobro/banjo/accordion. And that’s not all. This last Friday (3-31) when Lance Roark was playing an album release show with RC Edwards at Tulsa’s Mercury Lounge, RC said when introducing a song the two wrote together, “I think it might be on that new Turnpike record.”
Hell, we’re just happy to get further confirmation that there actually is a new Turnpike record on the way. Now get on with getting it to us, fellas. But in the meantime, Lance Roark and his album Better Man is worth getting on your radar too, whether you’re a Turnpike Troubadours fan or not. The fact that Roark might have a co-write (or two) on the new Turnpike album is just another good excuse to be paying attention.
From Eastern Oklahoma, Lance Roark’s roots are in bluegrass and country, and that definitely underpins this 8-song set. But there is also a bit of a swampy and sweaty feel in the way these original songs were rendered. Hank Early brought some keys and other production elements to bear to really give Lance’s songs some body, and at times, a Southern rock kick.
“Oklahoma Blacktop” might be distinctly inspired by Lance’s native state, but the music reminds you a little of Louisiana swamp pop. Both “Oklahoma Blacktop” and the title track of the album utilize savvy rhythm changes to favorable results, taking well-written songs and adding an infectious element to them. Along with RC Edwards lending a few songwriting credits to Better Man, so does Lance Roark’s wife Hannah.
In some ways Roark’s voice reminds you of another guy who came up in Oklahoma in the way it resolves phrases in a bit of a warble. It has a bit of Cody Canada tone to it, and the way Lance takes rock influences to country songs isn’t so far off from some early Cross Canadian Ragweed. You hear this especially in the song “Shut Us Down” that sucks you in with the rhythmic fiddle performed by guess who—Kyle Nix of the Turnpike Troubadours. Former Turnpike member and Tulsa superstar John Fullbright also lends some harmonica to the album.
Lance is just selling Better Man as a debut EP at the moment, but it definitely gives the 27-year-old a good start. The songs in many ways reflect his age and life, finding Lance somewhere between and young man and a grown adult, looking for that balance with a promising music career ahead, and a wife and kid at home.
RC Edwards stumbled upon Lance Roark in 2020 during the Turnpike hiatus/pandemic when he was looking for a lead guitar player. Roark fit the bill, but has subsequently slid even deeper into the Turnpike universe while finding a way to showcase his own music at the same time. Now being booked by Red 11, don’t be surprised if Roark catches some wind and becomes the next shooting star from Oklahoma in the coming years.