2017 was a great year for music and one of my absolute favorite albums to come out of it was ‘This Highway’ by Zephaniah OHora. This one seemed to pop out of nowhere for me; all of a sudden there it was, feeling fresh-yet-familiar, and sounding like a lost recording session from years past.
As often as possible I try to do this feature, called One Year Later, where I look back on an album that stood out to me a year after its release and see how it holds up. With this feature I try my best not to break an album down song-by-song, but rather discuss it as a whole, after everyone else is long done critiquing it. ‘This Highway’ is one I have been waiting to write for months; I just keep listening to it, and it only gets better.
This is the kind of album that reminds me that classic style country isn’t forgotten, it’s just underground and independent. For those who choose this path it’s not a quick ticket to riches, the grind will be real and long, it is a labor of love reserved solely for those with the fortitude to endure the arduous ride for the sake of the song. This site was started to add another place online for the names and music of primarily Independent artist to be discussed, and Zephaniah is exactly the kind of guy I had in mind when I decided to do this.
‘This Highway’ doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, it just keeps turning out great classic country tunes with substance and a specific style. I have seen a few reviews fault this album for lacking some more upbeat songs (It’s usually the only gripe, the album is well-received critically), but I think it is just fine the way it is, there‘s plenty of other music I can listen to if I want something more upbeat.
One thing I really enjoy about this album is that you don’t have to be a songsmith to get it, which is not to suggest that it isn’t deep, but rather that it is relatable and isn’t trying too hard. Throughout the album we are treated to not only classic vibes, but also the quintessential storylines that never tire; lost love, murder, and the never-ending struggles of life, all with somewhat of a modern spin. Zephaniah’s voice is clear and doles out subtle emotion at the appropriate times, without fanfare; there is nothing forced here.
Among many great songs, “I Do Believe I’ve Had Enough” tends to be the one I gravitate to most, with its finger-snapping beat, hands-in-the-air lyrics, and great guitar work. Dori Freeman on “Somethin’ Stupid” was a pleasant surprise the first time I listened; there is no mistaking her voice for anyone else and I thought this cover was a great middle ground between both of their styles. The album finishes with “For a Moment or Two”, which is a great send-off that certainly channels a bit of a Jones-esque style while keeping it all very much Zephaniah.
Last month I had the pleasure of finally getting to see Zeph live in Cambridge, MA, and it was everything I was hoping for; he was opening for Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, and I was there as much to see him as I was to see them. I was treated to all the songs from the album as well as several from the future album that I can’t wait to get my greasy paws on.
I made friendly with lots of folks at the show, which is somewhat odd for me, because I am typically more of the sit-back-and-listen guy. The first was a couple who sat next to us; they were unfamiliar with Zephaniah’s music and became freshly minted fans that night, along with a room full of Shook fans I’m sure. I also ended up chatting with a woman I would soon find out was Zephaniah’s mother; watching her enjoy her son’s performance was a special treat, especially during “Songs My Mama Sang”.
Call it cliché, but classic country has a specific feel you can’t fake; many try to channel the sound by force or by emulating the greats and it always comes out feeling like a faded version of something else. By not reinventing the wheel and coming from the heart, Zephaniah Ohora joined the ranks of the few proud contemporary country traditionalists. I can’t wait for his sophomore work.