Written By:

article by: Michael Canter

15 May 2012

CD Review - Irene Vennie by Wink Burcham

Ahhh, Wink.  He'd probably never admit it, but behind the trucker hat, the overalls and the big bushy beard and shaggy hair, the man exudes cool in an unnoticeable, skewed-from-the-cool-norm sort of way.  His music does all the talking.  He's a storyteller, and his music tells really, really good stories.
~ Michael Canter, Jivewired Radio

Release Date: 08-May-2012
Genre: Blues / Folk / Rock
Publisher: [c] 2012 Wink Burcham
Label: Horton Records
Time: 48m 04s
Review Date: 15-May-2012
Format: CD
Jivewired Digital Press Kit:  Not currently a member of Jivewired

Get it at:

Horton Records | iTunes | Amazon

Track Listing:

01. Crusin' Down The Road Feelin' Fine 4:31
02. Outta This Town (Get Lost) 3:15
03. Liquor Store 4:02
04. Gon' Lay You Down 4:12
05. One By One 3:52
06. Shadows 3:12
07. How It Really Went Down 4:32
08. No Matter Where You Are (There You Are) 4:32
09. The Good Ones 4:41
10. Pay Your Dues To Sing The Blues 3:55
11. Honky Tonk Heroes 3:29
12. We'll Go Dancin' Home 3:51


On his debut full-length LP Irene Vennie, Wink Burcham offers up an incomparable blend of blues, rock and country that should garner the Tusla, OK native the industry accolades that usually come with a more veteran recording resume.  Burcham tears it up in properly bluesy fashion throughout, blending a down-home, acoustic-based country tinge that is absolutely palpable in substance.  At times you can almost feel Wink's nimble fingers elegantly dance across the strings of his guitar, instinctively directing the flow of the music.

The dynamic at play here is truly amazing.  In saying that I mean, for instance, that Wink Burcham had gone into the studio likely knowing exactly what he was going to record and how he was going to record, as do most musicians.  But discerning listeners may perceive that Wink doesn't always color between the lines so to speak.  Every once in a while you'll hear something slightly recondite in this recording, as if Wink discovers a new lick or a forgotten chord in the midst of the recording and just runs with it.  But it's always subtle, and usually quite quick, a slight chord improvisation or break from tempo for instance.  That is where Wink Burcham is at his best, when he's not tied to the original structure of the melody or limited to the constraints of a prepared arrangement.

Take for instance the song Gon' Lay You Down, a slightly funky, blues and new folk masterpiece that grinds it out for three-plus minutes before the big finish kicks in.  There's a guitar lick at 3:29 right before that big finish that absolutely freezes the listener.  Simple, but knee-buckling, and signature Wink Burcham. It's not flashy, but it's genuine and reliable and feels like home.  Just like Tulsa.

As a listener, it's fun to look for the subtleties.  They'll almost always catch you off guard and they will almost always be jaw-dropping in nature , forcing you to do a double take.  Wink manages to parlay this particular studio recording into a seemingly live performance vibe that adds to the enjoyment of listening.  Put your high fidelity system outdoors, invite a bunch of friends over for drinks and food, put Irene Vennie on just before dusk, and you'll swear Wink Burcham is performing in person at your backyard soiree.

Wink is a story-teller, and he tells exceptional stories.  Liquor Store is a great example.  As soon as I heard it, I knew Jesse Aycock was accompanying on the pedal steel, and his inclusion gives Liquor Store a truly cool feel.  It's a brooding, deeply structured song, but it stands out because the music and the lyrics are equally descriptive.  When you compare storytellers of the genre, you immediately look to the greats -- Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and John Prine immediately come to mind.   Liquor Store is conceptually similar and Wink holds his own here.  I abhor comparisons, and Wink Burcham is unique in his own right, enough so that the comparisons are unnecessary, though they are accurate and at least give the new listener a starting point.

Cruisin' Down The Road Feelin' Fine and No Matter Where You Are (There You Are) are also great examples of Wink Burcham's inherent ability to tell a story through his music.  There is a joy to songwriting and song structure for Burcham that is evident in these two songs. Both wrap amiable arms around you over the bedrock of toe-tapping rhythms.  Wink is, as usual, as playful with the music as he is with the lyrics, getting a little more funky on the lead song and a little more blues-country on the latter.   The piano/guitar interplay on the introduction of  No Matter Where You Are (There You Are) is really charming.  It's almost turn-of-the-century old-timey in nature and a nice change of pace.  

Honky Tonk Heroes, featuring co-vocal accompaniment by Desi Roses, offers an insistent, mouth-watering spare slice of indie fun.  This well-constructed jam is a delicious collaborative roux that showcases the best of The New Tulsa Sound, including Jesse Aycock on dobro and Dave Morrow with a sinfully wicked harmonica solo.  Honky Tonk Heroes narrows in on the prominence of Desi and Wink's duet, yet the underlying narrative and layering of guitar, upright piano and harmonica gives it an impeccably accomplished and wonderfully full sound.  All in all, Honky Tonk Heroes is an authentic Americana jamboree, a nearly enslaving pop and folk thrill that is pure enjoyment.

Wink Burcham has a clear understanding of what he is trying to accomplish.  Irene Vennie is an enduring full-length that hints at Burcham's heady potential, an offering that is far more polished than the average debut release.  Burcham captivates from the get go, and doesn't let up until the final notes of the final song have been recorded.  That dedication is evident throughout; songwriting, arrangement, production and engineering are all top notch.  Call it a grand slam technically and a wonderful listen musically.  Gon' Lay You Down, Liquor Store and Honky Tonk Heroes alone would be enough to earn this release an astounding review, and thankfully that is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is enough blues, folk and country crossover in this entire release to offer significant value to nearly any listener.   

Irene Vennie is an absolute treasure.

About Wink Burcham:

Singer/songwriter, Wink Burcham, has been playing the Tulsa music scene for over five years, and is an integral part of the “New Tulsa Sound.” He has developed a very loyal following in Tulsa and Northwest Arkansas. Performing a style that easily slips between old-fashioned country, grass-roots folk, and Motown inspired blues, it's easy to understand his appeal.  His soulful melodies support witty and heartfelt lyrics in the tradition of John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams,  and John Lee Hooker. Wink has just released, Irene Vennie, his debut studio album which was recorded at the legendary Church Studio in Tulsa.

For those well versed on the local music scene, Wink Burcham is a familiar name and face. He's been a staple of the local club scene for years, playing at least four nights a week at various spots around Tulsa and become a favorite for many.

He has become quite an astute and prolific songwriter during that time as well, but even though he's got a solid following and a catalog of songs, he's never released a CD of his own material. Until now, that is.

It's not that he hasn't tried. According to Burcham, he's got studio recordings that sit and collect dust at home -- some of them eight years old or more. He's just never been happy with what he captured.

When asked, even Burcham has a hard time describing his sound.

"In a general sense, it's all folk and all jazz and all blues: it's for folks with the blues and jazzy enough to get them to move," he said.

Ultimately, however, when referring back to the classic Tulsa sound, Burcham referenced one of the masters. "J.J. Cale used to say it's just a bunch of white boys in Tulsa trying to play the blues and that's how it came out," he said. "Cale's music was really just rock 'n' roll at its core, but he put his own stamp on it."

"I write a lot of acoustic music and there's some that I refuse to play with a band because it just doesn't fit the vibe," he said. "I think it's better for just me a harmonica and maybe a banjo player."

That's telling of Burcham's vision for his music. Although he seems incredibly laid back, he knows exactly how he wants his songs to be played and represented.

When discussing that next stage, Burcham admitted to being ready to start touring and playing out of town more frequently, but he also knows that he want to let it grow organically.

"I'd rather be infamous than famous," he winked knowingly. "I'd like to be more like Townes Van Zandt or Willis Alan Ramsey -- one of those guys that only a handful of people really know how good they are, but the audience grows because they're so good."

If Burcham can manage to capture the magic of his love performances in the studio, that shouldn't be much of an issue. After all, his songs flow so naturally, it's like he's always playing in the pocket and enjoying his comfort zone. Once everyone else settles in there with him, the rest will take care of itself.

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