A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Garrett Lebeau “Rise to the Grind” (Music Road Records)
Listening to Garrett Lebeau’s debut album, it’s logical to deduce that there’s a distinct advantage to being a self-taught musician who didn’t grow up listening to much music: You don’t feel particularly constrained by genre or stylistic boundaries.
The Wyoming native is primarily singing the blues on “Rise to the Grind,” but he adroitly adds plenty of funk, soul and folk to the mix on his first record, recently released on Oklahoma-bred Americana singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave’s Austin, Texas-based Music Road Records.
Both LaFave and Lebeau are performing Saturday night at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in the folk icon’s hometown of Okemah. For more information, go to Ö www.woodyfest.com.
Lebeau, 34, lays down such a laidback, listenable vibe on his debut effort that the hard-hitting lyrics of “Brothers” and “Darkness,” songs about bad choices and personal hells that draw from the starker side of his isolated upbringing on the Wind River Indian Reservation, sneak up on the listener.
Likewise, the up-and-coming bluesman’s stalker story “Eyes on You” quickly creeps up to give you the creeps; in contrast, the versatile singer/songwriter/guitarist is able to convincingly offer up earnestly unabashed adoration with “Passionate Fool.”
While “Broke Down Dream” and “When Love Was New” effectively delve into the pain of lost love, “Blue Eyed Girls” overflows with sweetness that never gets too syrupy. The title track closes the album with a warm homage to working-class folks going about their daily business.
Along with showcasing the Texas transplant’s own considerable skills as a soulful crooner and blues guitarist, “Rise to the Grind” spotlights the formidable talents of bassist Roscoe Beck, drummer J.J Johnson, B3 organ player Red Young and keyboardist Stefano Intelisano.
While the influence of Al Green, Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs and Oklahoma natives J.J. Cale and Leon Russell are evident on Lebeau’s debut, “Rise to the Grind” also reveals a budding artist well on his way to establishing his own singular style.