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Fullbright’s first studio album, From the Ground Up, was released earlier this year, but this was not his first album. Contrary to standard industry practice, his first release was actually a live album (Live at the Blue Door). Though he modestly insists that this is more a function of simply not having the time or money to go into the studio, a live album was a natural first release for Fullbright. Picking up a guitar at an early age, he was already a staple at festivals in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma – a hometown he shares with Woody Guthrie – by the time he graduated high school. Beginning what is sure to be a lengthy discography with a live album isn’t the only thing about John Fullbright that will strike you as unique as you listen to his session on The Coffeehouse.
Starting the set with the guitar-based “Gawd Above”, Fullbright sounds exactly how you might guess – roots-y, Americana, etc. – but don’t let first impressions fool you. This a musician who cites not just hometown hero Woody Guthrie as an influence, but also Randy Newman. The common thread that unites all of the many influences across several genres that he was kind of enough to list for us (and we doubt for the first time in an interview) is songwriting. Although he is a highly talented musician, it is Fullbright’s songwriting on From the Ground Up that is the most striking. The themes that he covers and the observations that he makes are really unheard of when compared to other musicians his age. In fact, his perspective might prove inimitable no matter how many years of wisdom a given musician might have.
He switched over to the piano for his second song, “Nowhere to be Found”. Songwriting is also the thread that unites Fullbright’s own songs, as the transition from a rollicking guitar tune to a fragile piano ballad is not something that very many musicians can pull off, never mind as genuinely and convincingly as Fullbright does here. He closed with “Fat Man”, a standout track from his album. Though one might say Fullbright consistently experiments with different genres on every track of the album, it is this song that proves the most hard to define. It’s nearly cabaret-like atmosphere and striking imagery made this an excellent closer for the live session as it showed off yet another side of the immensely rich and endlessly surprising From the Ground Up.