During my first listen through of DocFell & Co.’s Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma I was reminded of my time reading classic American novels. The storytelling is simple, yet relatable and descriptive, the characters are likable yet have their flaws, and most importantly it had me invested and feeling a variety of genuine emotions. You can’t help but notice that there is something really special happening here.
Heaven, Hell, or Oklahoma touches on nearly every sub-genre of country music, with each track sounding not only completely diverse from one another, but also incredibly good in the process. It’s evident that DocFell & Co. are artistically exploratory in their creativity, yet they still hold enough reverence, and admiration for country music to never take it too far from its roots.
Deep from the heartland of America in Oklahoma, DocFell & Co. are out on a mission to restore the integrity of modern country music. By channeling legends like Woodie Guthrie, Johnny Cash and even Patsy Cline, DocFell & Co. are combining the sounds of Americana, folk, bluegrass, gospel, and funk with traditional country music to revitalize people’s interest in the genre and remind them what it’s all about. Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma is this idea fully realized – it takes us on a captivating journey through what country music was, currently is, and could be in the future.
The record begins with a ballad of sorts about a sheriff coming to terms with exactly who he is and the things he’s done; and whether he’s truly as moral and altruistic as he tries to be. Fittingly called Peace Maker, this opening track is melodramatic, gritty, and kind of rebellious – it would feel right at home in the best spaghetti westerns. Peace Maker sets a remarkable precedent of pacing and storytelling that never wavers throughout the 11 tracks on Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma.
End of the Line makes a complete 180 from the previous track as it establishes a classic country-pop sound featuring some of the most incredible steel guitar work I’ve ever heard. A story about a trucker’s life on the road, End of the Line offers a sincere and, perhaps more importantly, catchy, insight into an often overlooked and unsung profession.
Heaven, Hell, or Oklahoma ventures into a bit of country rock for the next track, Slim Says. It’s a solid track in its own right, but ultimately a forgettable one on an album brimming with much more creative songs. On Tough we’re introduced to some good old fashioned fiddle playing, which offers the perfect call and response between Doc’s voice and the instrument.
A Different Drum is arguably the most unique song on the record, it combines a lot of different elements to build an incredibly upbeat track that just makes you want to dance. Spitfire vocals, pulsating rhythms, and high-speed fiddle and guitar work create an infectious vibe that paints a clear picture of a hoedown in a barn. This energetic track leads into the softly-spoken love song In Your Eyes in a surprisingly satisfying way. It affords the listener the ability to appreciate this rather simplistic track in a more meaningful way.
No self-respecting country album would be complete without a tale of some kind of strong woman who takes no crap, and that’s exactly what Mean Marie is for Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma. A classic southern rock track in the vein of ZZ Top, DocFell & Co. just continue to prove that they can do any genre of country, and they can do it well. The next track, Three Chords, much like Slim Says before, is a fine track, but one that pales in comparison.
Molly Fields Cemetery and Beulah Land couldn’t be more different from one another, though both feature the best vocal performances from DocFell on this record. It’s emotional, raw, intense, and reminds you just how exceptional his voice can be. The closing track, Home on the Hill is a proper duet, and the perfect swan song for Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma. The cherry on top is that we finally get some organ action to close everything out.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not the biggest fan of country music, but I absolutely adored DocFell & Co.’s Heaven, Hell or Oklahoma. Every musician on this record delivers a flawless performance, DocFell’s vocals and storytelling are second to none, and the high-quality variety on the album is impressive to say the least. Do yourself a favor, whether you typically like this kind of music or not, give the album a listen. I guarantee you’ll end up a fan.