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Can't stop spinning: 2014 Best Album Poll

A sampling of the tunes that inspired Tulsa’s tunesmiths this year

Last year around this time, we ran a feature almost exactly like this one. We asked local musicians to name a favorite album of the year, with no restrictions or conditions. Local or global or anywhere in between, tell us the one album you couldn’t get enough of. It turned out great, readers seemed to like it, so we did it again this year—only this time, something unexpected happened.

We kept the idea the same: no restrictions or conditions. We did not ask people to name their favorite album by a Tulsa musician, yet three of the folks we asked named the same album, Tulsa singer-songwriter Chris Lee Becker’s “Imaginary Friends.” My first instinct was that we couldn’t have three identical entries; maybe we should ask two of them to choose another favorite. My second instinct was that my first instinct was stupid. He made a great album. His peers called it the best of the year. And that deserves to be celebrated. So I invited Chris for a cup of coffee to chat about its creation.

The Tulsa Voice: Tell me about the making of the record.

Chris Lee Becker: I did a Kickstarter [online crowd-funding campaign] in February to raise the money to make it. Then we did most of the recording in April and May. Jared Tyler produced it and we recorded it at Travis Fite’s studio, Soul Tree Studios. Travis also did some engineering on it. 

TTV: Did those guys also play on the record?

CLB: They did. Jared played dobro all over it and sang a lot of harmonies. Travis played this old metal 1934 National guitar. And besides those two guys, it seems like half of Tulsa’s on there. I tried to get as many Tulsa players as I could.

TTV: Is it mostly new material?

CLB: Yeah, the tunes were written in the last two or three years. I waited and waited to do this album. I probably should’ve done it two or three years ago. But I wanted to have plenty of material. I didn’t want to blow all my tunes on one album. We picked from about 25 songs. We left some good ones off, but that just means I have another album to make.

VIDEO: Chris Lee Becker kicks off our 2015 Courtyard Concert Series

Chris lee Becker 
Imaginary Friends—Available on iTunes and at HortonRecords.com
This record is familiar, it’s cozy, it’s sentimental, compassionate, humorous, and 100 percent Okie in a way that makes you feel that perhaps Becker grew up with you on your street and swam with you in your creeks.  He’s a true wordsmith, and pairing that with simple and skillful instrumentation makes for a damn good listen. Choosing a favorite track is challenging, but the picture he paints of his gal on “Oh Sister, Oh Brother” just might make you fall in love with her. —Adrienne Gilley, Singer // Green Corn Rebellion, Grazzhopper

When I listen to this record, I can hear that each word was well-thought over and carefully selected. Each song tells a unique story. Well-crafted songwriting, performances from an array of talented musicians, and excellent production make this my favorite album of 2014.—Robert Hoefling, Singer/Songwriter

With many local gems this year—including releases from Low Litas, Desi and Cody, Broncho and Robert Hoefling—“Imaginary Friends” by Chris Lee Becker has proven to be a road worthy classic and my top listen of 2014. I can’t stop singing, picking and listening to these tunes. Producer Jared Tyler has wholly captured and augmented the sincerity and simplicity that Becker’s songwriting evokes. Down-home, damn straight!—Christopher Foster, Vox/Banjo/Guitar // Green Corn Rebellion

Dirty Creek Bandits
Dirty Creek Bandits
Dirty Creek Bandits use folk instruments, but they play original rock n’ roll. Great melodies and socially conscious lyrics without being preachy.—Aaron Webb, Guitar/Vocals // Hey Judy

Robert Hoefling
Old Memories and Live Wires

His voice has a vulnerable quality about it, and the musicality of the record really brings it to a professional level. I’m continually awakened to how great music is in Tulsa, how wonderful it is to know and play music with such great talent. A record like this truly makes you proud of Tulsa.—Cody Brewer, Banjo/Guitar/Vocals // Grazzhopper

Nathan Bowles

I’d call it “twangbient.” Twangy banjo-centered music, but very slow and meditative like ambient music. (New age hillbilly music.) What grabs me is how unintrusive it is. It does the opposite of grab me—it puts me in a trance.—Dylan Golden AycockGuitarist and Composer

Bill Frisell
Guitar in the Space Age

Back in May, Clay Welch, Paul Benjaman and I went to see Bill with a fantastic band in Denton. The show was absolutely sublime, especially the interplay between Bill and steel guitar player Greg Leisz, and they played a lot of material that ended up on this record. The album is a perfect example of Bill’s unique take on some well known standards. It goes as well with a good road trip as it does a Sunday morning cup of coffee.—Dylan Layton, Lead Guitar/Vocals // Whirligig

The Take Off and Landing of Everything

An album that even on first listen challenged and made me question who I am as an artist, with the most positive outcome.  Simply put, it’s pure intelligent beauty. But that could be said for anything they do. That voice!  “And I cannot stay where all the broken plans were made.”—Fiawna Forté, Singer/Songwriter

Sturgill Simpson
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
It gives me hope for country music, a genre that seems to be a shell of its former self. Simpson drew me in with his strong baritone voice, reminiscent of greats like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. He kept me around with his lyrical prowess. The ability to talk about some fairly heavy subjects in a way that makes me want to tap my foot along is something I highly respect.—Kalyn Fay Barnoski, Singer/Songwriter

What do the musicians in our Best Album Poll have in common? Each performed at Voice HQ as part of our 2014 Courtyard Concert Series. Check out video from all the performances at TheTulsaVoice.com/video

The videos are great, but seeing a show in the courtyard is something special. All the musicians who stopped by last year—and we mean all—marveled at the intimate, attentive, laid-back atmosphere. Several said it was among their favorite “rooms” to play in Tulsa. Follow us on social media for the lowdown on these pop-up shows.

Looking for more stories by Matt? Check out his review of John Moreland's High on Tulsa Heat and his interview with Wink Burcham and Dustin Pittsley.

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