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Velveteen touch

Paul Benjaman’s 'Sneaker' is pure Tulsa

Phil Clarkin

Every week at The Colony, a veritable who’s who of Tulsa roots rockers take the stage for Paul Benjaman’s Sunday Night Thing and perform for the who’s who in attendance. I’ve heard some people call it the best night of music in Tulsa. I’ve heard others simply call it church. When I bared witness, “Lord Paul” stood sunglassed at his pulpit and was shredding the shit out of his guitar. His crew ripped through a set of standards and originals with hard rock voraciousness. Well, if the Sunday Night Thing is Benjaman’s big tent invocation, Sneaker is his thoughtful sermon.

The second full-length from the Paul Benjaman Band, Sneaker arrives on the heels of a successful pre-sale campaign. Acting as a timestamp for a man and band who gig relentlessly, the collection of “Tulsa Sound-y” songs play to every member’s strengths. 

Again with Paul and the who’s whos, the players assembled are Tulsa greats. Jesse Aycock of the Hard Working Americans handles guitar and both lap and pedal steel. On bass and drums are Bo Hallford and Andrew Bones, respectively (both of defunct trio The Panda Resistance and new project Disappearing Planes, which debuts Thursday, Oct. 29 at Soundpony). Local jazz piano whiz Jeff Newsome rounds out the Band, and in the middle of the acolytes is Lord Paul himself.

My first impression of the album was, “Damn, this sounds like ZZ Top playing Beck.” Which made sense in retrospect when I learned that Benjaman uses Beck’s “Paper Tiger” from Sea Change as a reference point for all his mixes.

Although smoother than his revelatory Sunday Night Thing, Sneaker is an exercise in covert raucousness. Benjaman has the simultaneously gritty, playful and soft delivery of Billy Gibbons, and it’s his unmistakable voice that guides the listener through the pan-genre track listing. Sneaker sneaks, with the harsh sweetness of a day drunk. Your head is splitting from last night’s debauchery, but you ride the manic wave higher with every sip. That’s the vibe throughout the album’s 12 tracks. Even if he’s breaking your heart with the lovelorn “Auburn Plaid” (“she’s on my mind, most the time”), the band maintains a steady forward drive. A good chunk of the songs have a kraut-rocky pulse, but this is America, and more importantly: Tulsa, baby. 

Benjaman has been called one of the purest examples of “The New Tulsa Sound,” and with Sneaker, you’d be hard pressed to disagree. Known to rock a robe, he dons one emblazoned with honky tonk, jazz and rock’s many flavors. In this technicolor dreamcoat, and with feet in the album’s namesake, PB throws the listener a peace sign and casually moonwalks out of the room.

Check out our video and Q&A from Paul Benjaman's recent turn in the Voice's Courtyard Concert Series.

For more from Mitch, read his review of Senior Fellows' album Shallow Grave for a Dying God.