Valentine’s Day saw the release of Dust Bowl Heart, the sophomore album from the Tahlequah, OK based DocFell & Co. I was introduced to them last year with their debut album Scissor Tail and dug their blend of red dirt, blues, and Texas honky tonk. Doctor John Fell (vocals/acoustic guitar) and Kyle Brown (guitar/mandolin/background vocals) anchor the music troupe that’s always been open-ended as far as who’s in the band at any given time. Like Scissor Tail, this album features a plethora of artists, most of which are Okies local to the scene or folks the duo have met at various gigs across the state. Thomas Trapp and Caitlin Cary (vocals, Whiskeytown) are two notables along with The Mastersons and Bernice Hembree.
Out of the gate the doc greets us with a haunted, phonographic filtered bit of poetry (a la Scissor Tail) before moving into the spooky up tempo shuffle, “Lonesomeville”, a fictitious town of one that’s so lonely that even the dog and the cat don’t want to stick around.
From there the record settles into Fell’s home grown takes on love and life. Overall, Dust Bowl Heart leans more heavily on Fell & Brown’s red dirt and Americana roots while easing off the rock and pedal steel sounds present on their first album. When those elements do rear their heads on tracks like “The Less I Know” and “Love Sick” they’re very subdued to pave the way for a more old time southern vibe. Throughout the album Fell invokes nostalgic metaphors and couples them with traditional folk rhythms and shuffles. The doc’s twangy voice is cutting but he doesn’t pull wild vocal gymnastics on you, the songs don’t call for it and the overall tone of the album harkens to a Sunday shindig at a rural southern rec hall. At times these guys are a banjo short of being a bluegrass outfit. Tracks like “Broken Heart” and “Dust Bowl Heart” are dance worthy while the home state homage “Oklahoma Lady” and sentimental ballad “Home on the Hill” have an air of gentleness and sincerity.
With both albums, I’ve found DocFell & Co. to be a solid change up when thrown into a Texas heavy playlist. I know the term “red dirt” has been erroneously overloaded to be a catchall for all Texas and Oklahoma music but DocFell & Co. more accurately honors the genre’s roots. Dust Bowl Heart is not big and showy; but, it grows on you over time and worth checking out.