Published on January 10th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Jefferson Coker’s Southern-Fried Full-Band Sound Takes Shape
It’s been five years since local songwriter Jefferson Coker left a well-paying day job in Seattle as a graphic designer with Microsoft, moved back home to the Lowcountry, and embarked on a new career as a full-time working musician and songwriter. This month, he and his newly established celebrate the release of a full-length disc titled What Were You Expecting.
Coker spent most of the late 2000s assembling a full set of original tunes and a full night’s worth of classic and modern rock, country, and blues covers. Coker collaborated with a variety of local musicians on stage and in studios, as well. Last year, he recorded and released his solo debut Freedom, an album featuring a twangy set of songs that reflected on the last 30 years of his life, including experiences with family, world travel, addictions, and his childhood battles with cystic hygroma lymphangioma.
Over the last year and a half, Coker enlisted new players into his musical projects and solidified the Jefferson Coker Band with the skillful lineup of organist Greg Winkler (a.k.a. “Jig Wiggler”), drummer Chris French, bassist Ricky Feagin, and harmonica player David Grunstra (of Wire & Wood). Grunstra occasionally plays extra mandolin, or “man’olin,” as they call it.
“The first album was simply me and my songs, but What Were You Expecting is really the full Jefferson Coker Band,” says Coker, speaking this week from his current home in rural Ravenel. “When I started writing my own songs, I wrote a group of them over many years, and that’s what become the first album. These new songs were written just over the last year and a half. “
Coker and the band recorded the tracks last year in Nashville and at the Jiggle Room on the Isle of Palms with Winkler engineering.
“It was a great studio set-up at Jig’s place on the Isle of Palms,” Coker says. “It wasn’t a typical home studio; it had some great equipment with a few separate rooms. When we went into the studio, we were really just able to knock ’em out in just one or two takes. It was very comfortable there, and the technical aspect of it all was pretty high — although I can guarantee you there’s no AutoTune on What Were You Expecting.”
What Were You Expecting’s lead track, “The River,” kicks off with a Black Crowes-esque three-chord rock groove. Local songsmith Danielle Howle adds a touch of soulful harmonies in the chorus. The heartbreaker “Gone” eases back a bit with a minor key progression that resembles Creedence’s “Suzy Q.” The rattlesnake shake of “The Bottom” is upbeat and syncopated with subtle harmonica accents, organ, and exotic guitar solos.
“We aimed for a mix between classic 1976 rock studio sound and what we sound like on stage,” Coker says of the mix of Southern-styled rock, electric blues, and outlaw country on the disc. “We aimed for an honest, live feel. That’s why we went in and recorded as a band. All of our different personal influences show through. It reflects growing up in the Charleston area and traveling around the Southeast. There’s definitely a Southern flavor to it all.”
There are themes of heartbreak, troubled relationships, and loneliness to some of the tunes, but others are humorous, upbeat, and even a little raunchy and rowdy. Deep into the album, a traditional Southern rock vibe takes hold of the music. The funky rhythms and soulful twang of “The Price You Pay” would please any Skynyrd fan. The lively “Li’l Darlin'” has some Bachmann-Turner Overdrive overtones. The acoustic-based country anthem “Lie to Me” is full of extra mandolin and even more earnest harmonies between Coker and Howle. “Prok Chop Annie” (misspelling intended) pulls bits from Tony Joe White’s “Poke Salad Annie” and AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
What Were You Expecting concludes with four uptempo numbers. Coker and the band deliver a steamy rendition of colleague and longtime colleague Kevin Church’s “She Gets High,” an uptempo trucker/country rocker with cool dual guitar work. “Sweet Home Caroline” begins with a guitar hook resembling Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and accelerates into a hard-swingin’ boogie anthem. “Country U.S.A.” adds a touch of vintage rockabilly and a litany of hick catchphrases and clichés. Coker’s passionate howl and bluesy guitar licks complement the slinky, soul/gospel vibes of closer “I Don’t Mind.”
“My chops as a guitarist and as a singer had gotten better, and my band shaped into a very talented group with a good sound,” Coker says. “I’ve embraced it.
“I want this album to go as far as it possibly can,” he adds. “The quality is good enough to be on the radio, and the songs are good. I think it has great potential, with the market the way it is today. We’re getting attention overseas in the Scandinavian countries, of all places. I sent a bunch of copies out, and it started selling great on CD Baby and iTunes over there. I have no delusions of grandeur, and I know that making it big is not likely. But it’s possible. Making a living playing music is possible.”
The Jefferson Coker Band will host a CD release show at the Windjammer on Fri. Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. with support from Sarah Cole and the Hawkes. Admission is $5.
Coker and the band also perform at the Blind Tiger downtown on Fri. Jan. 18, at the Surf Bar on Folly Beach on Sat. Jan. 19, at Snapper Jack’s on Folly on Fri. Jan. 25, and at Montreux in Summerville on Fri. Feb. 1.
Visit facebook.com/jefferson.coker for more.
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