Zephaniah OHora Impresses at AmericanaFest
The life of the classic country fan living in the modern world is all to often one of disappointment. Of course there are plenty of the old records to reminisce back upon, or artists who attempt their best interpretations of the old modes for a new generation of fans. But there’s a sense of ownership in listening to an original artist in their native era that you just don’t get with nostalgic reflection on past greats. And too often in today’s classic country realm, an artist will come along offering incredible promise, only to eventually reveal their classic country passion to be nothing more than a passing fancy, or some exercise in a hipster-ific popularity garnering where the passion is only skin deep.
When Zephaniah OHora released his debut album This Highway in June, it almost seemed too good to be true. We had been down this road before with other classic country newcomers, even big names like Sturgill Simpson, who eventually decided to explore other influences. That’s cool too, but there is something about those old school country sounds that stir the soul in a way other styles of music struggle with. Zephaniah OHora has that ability, yet how much could we invest in a young man from New York of all places? Could we submit to the music without risking heartbreak in the future?
The best way to describe the live Zephaniah OHora experience is to say that he’s everything you want him to be, and nothing you fear he might be, at least as a classic country fan. His genius is in the subtly and nuance. He’s not especially animated on stage. He doesn’t have some folksy manner on the microphone that helps to endear him to the crowd with charming anecdotes. It’s definitely not an “energetic” show in the conventional sense. If anything, it’s a dryness, underpinned with a quiet earnestness and authenticity that does the ingratiating of his music to the crowd.
The greatest thing about Zephaniah OHora live is the same with his record: it’s a completely indefinable, indescribable something-ness that all those old greats had, and that unfortunately is either fleeting or non-existent in many of today’s reenactments. It’s a warmth that the old greats conveyed through their music, like the recently-passed Don Williams. Yet with Zephaniah, it’s right here, right now, part of your generation of performers, for you to experience first hand, and in a formative state where you can jump on board now and watch it mature from here.
At Zephaniah’s performance at Nashville’s The Mercy Lounge on Saturday night (9/16) as part of AmericanaFest, he also boasted an excellent, all-star lineup for his “18 Wheeler” band that included multiple songwriters and performer themselves that took good care of the concept with which Zephaniah approaches his music. But another cool thing about OHora is he takes many of his own Telecaster leads. And just like his songwriting, singing, and performance, Zephaniah’s guitar playing is tasteful, measured, and seems just about perfect for what he’s trying to convey and evoke through his music.
Just like when entering a relationship, there’s always the possibility of heartbreak when you buy in too hard to the music or career of a young, classic country artist. And from here, Zephaniah will mature, and must mature and evolve as an artist to keep on the cutting edge of what is cool in classic and traditional country music. But rest assured that Zephaniah is no put-on, Howdy Doody show relying on styling and vintage duds for his country authenticity. This is a singular singer, songwriter, and performer who hopefully has years of output to grace us with, and with a sound so oft-forgotten, and poorly interpreted and understood even by some of its most earnest proponents and performers.
Simply put, Zephaniah OHora gets it.
– – – – – – – – – –
A more detailed review of AmericanaFest 2017 is forthcoming
September 18, 2017 @ 11:29 am
Yeah! Glad to see one of my favorite Brooklyn Country players getting some love – he deserves it 🙂
September 18, 2017 @ 12:17 pm
Love this guy. Hey Zeph, crowd-source the next album with the 18 Wheelers. Pitch it at $15,000.
September 18, 2017 @ 4:04 pm
15k? That’s it? Guess he’s not your type. Money talk and low balling him at that.
September 18, 2017 @ 5:47 pm
ginger, the homework on this says he raised $7,202 for “this highway” on kickstarter but says elsewhere he had to pay more for his musicians some other way. maybe the total was $15k, I don’t know. so I’m saying fine zeph, next time kickstart the whole thing and reap a greater % of sales as profit.
zeph proves that quality doesn’t need some fancy label and a lot of debt.
I’d say that’s progress.
September 18, 2017 @ 12:36 pm
They guy’s album is superb, good to hear he’s impressing in a live setting too
September 18, 2017 @ 1:46 pm
Great write up. The remarks about embracing an artist as part of your own generation rings very true to me. Before I started reading this site 5 or so years ago, practically everything I listened to was recorded before I was born. Thank you for zephaniah, Sturgill, turnpike, Robert Ellis, Tyler childers, Paul cauthen, the boomswagglers, and so many others that I can’t even list them. This site has definitely changed my music, and as a result changed my life.
Keep on fighting the good fight.
September 18, 2017 @ 4:22 pm
agreed. I too used to think that new music that was worth listening to was rare and endangered.
Then I found this place while searching for validation of my opinions that new Country wasn’t Country and I found a Trigger rant and I’ve called this place home (much to a lot of people’s chagrin) ever since.
and even though I probably irritate a lot of people I’m beyond thankful for this place I’ve met some awesome people and learned about some awesome music even if I do come across like an opinionated prick sometimes.
The artist I benefited from learning about most is Slaid Cleaves he’s my favorite and Isbell is a close 2nd
September 18, 2017 @ 5:55 pm
love ya fuzz you old hairball
to me the writing bar is set highest by Welch, Childers, and Outlaw
but there’s a ton of good out there when you turn off your radio
September 18, 2017 @ 7:08 pm
5 seconds into the first song I previewed on iTunes and I was sold. Thank you for the recommendation. This is why I still follow this site after all these years.
September 18, 2017 @ 11:28 pm
The home of country music is not the south, it’s the soul.
September 19, 2017 @ 3:46 pm
September 19, 2017 @ 4:15 pm
September 19, 2017 @ 4:31 pm
Does it really make you feel better to cling to corny platitudes that have no basis in reality?
If you’re ever going to save Country Music (you’re not), first you’re going to have to learn what the heck it is and where it came from.
September 20, 2017 @ 8:54 am
That might be the most laughable comment you have made on here yet, Honky. And that is saying A LOT!
September 20, 2017 @ 10:04 am
honky, if country music comes from a certain place and people, and only that place, then how can you explain betrayals of that tradition that come from those places and people?
there must be something else that’s more fundamental, which to me is a) love of country music, and b) detailed knowledge of country music — both of which O’Hora and others have in spades
think of it as the love bug:
Well, I always thought that I had me a pretty good style
But I lost that race by a good old country mile
Yeah, I was walking all around with my head held way up high
And then it fooled me, hit me, really took me by surprise
Oh, that little bitty teeny weeny thing they call the love bug…
dennis double diamond
September 19, 2017 @ 12:07 am
I get it too, look forward to seeing you soon Zephaniah. Congratulations
September 19, 2017 @ 5:31 am
His new album literally stopped me in my tracks as it illicited an emotional connection to the music I adore. Visions of sitting in a VFW in Fort Ashby, WV with my father poured over me as Zephania’s songs emerged from the jukebox there. A terrific record that I never tire of. I can’t wait to see him in concert
September 19, 2017 @ 8:15 am
Nothing bad to say about his album.
I an appreciate it even if it ain’t 100% my cup of tea.
Sometimes I get a Glenn Campbell vibe from him which I really like.
September 19, 2017 @ 9:23 am
looked him up on you tube…. he is hardcore, I like him, reminds me a bit of Red Sovine. Hope he doesn’t evolve himself out of favor.
jessie with the long hair
September 19, 2017 @ 7:36 pm
I’m drinking the Kool-Aide! He is really, really great. Very authentic, yet original.
September 20, 2017 @ 12:37 pm
I stopped by The Nashville Palace after I left Turnpike’s set at Cannery on Friday night to have a couple of drinks and he was playing. Was very impressed.
September 20, 2017 @ 7:10 pm
He’s a really great guy with an extensive knowledge of classic country music. I definitely believe he will just keep getting better and better. Still quite a young guy. Very talented dude. 😀