This Highway

Zephaniah OHora / The 18 Wheelers

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This Highway Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Designed as a tribute to the sound and feel of classic Bakersfield country, This Highway -- the debut album from Zephaniah OHora and the 18 Wheelers -- pulls off the rare trick of a being a deliberate throwback that feels modern. Some of the sonic success of This Highway may be due to the sumptuous production of Jim Campilongo and Luca Benedetti, a pair of guitarists with deep roots in N.Y.C.'s country and Americana scenes -- they both played in the Honeyfingers, which also featured OHora, while Campilongo was part of Norah Jones' classic country side project, the Little Willies. Together, they help give This Highway just enough warmth and echo to suggest the softer records emanating from Bakersfield in the '60s and '70s, and that is precisely the right musical bed for OHora. An unapologetic disciple of Merle Haggard -- there are moments on This Highway where his voice halts, just like Hag does on his deft ballads -- OHora also carries himself as elegantly as Gentleman Jim Reeves, giving this lean West Coast country a hint of Nashville elegance. This polished craft, evident in both the production and performance (not to mention OHora's finely constructed originals), also suits This Highway because it makes explicit nods at the past, whether it's how "I Do Believe I've Had Enough" salutes "(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers" in its cadence and melody or how the Sinatras' "Somethin' Stupid" is turned into a Nancy & Lee number thanks to a duet with Dori Freeman. Despite these postmodern twists, there's no irony within Zephaniah OHora and the 18 Wheelers, and that's why This Highway is such a pleasure. This is a straightforward, affectionate rendering of the smooth, melancholy side of Bakersfield, and anybody with a fondness for this music will find This Highway hard to resist.

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