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Blue Water Highway Band cruises into OKC for a formal lesson in Americana showmanship

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Just once, it would be great to describe an ensemble as opera meets Americana. Blue Water Highway Band finally made that possible. To be fair, the group features two former opera majors at Texas State University, but it plays roots and alt-country with nary a trace of the oeuvre.

The Kyle, Texas, act released its debut album, Things We Carry, in February. Since then, it has toured from Texas to Kansas and stops in Oklahoma City for a 9:30 p.m. show Friday at Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E. Sheridan Ave.

Co-founders Zack Kibodeaux and Greg Essington were friends in high school in Lake Jackson, Texas, where they participated in choir. After high school, they both chose to pursue music further. Essington majored in sound recording at New York University with a minor in music, while Kibodeaux went to Texas State. During that time, the two wrote and shared songs back and forth.

“I finally coaxed Greg back to Texas,” Kibodeaux said. “I had met some great connections in college, and we were anxious to start a band.”

Its name comes from a stretch of highway where Essington and Kibodeaux grew up on Texas’s Gulf Coast — known as Brazosport by the locals — and its music is drawn from those same roots.

“We had a bunch of influences growing up,” Essington said, “but we finally found a common interest in Ryan Adams.”

An insurgent country sound runs through the band’s album, and there are moments during two songs, “City Love, City Lose” and “How I Broke Your Heart,” when you can almost hear Whiskeytown 20 years later.

In addition to Adams, the pair cites influences like Counting Crows, The Lone Bellow and other acts committed to songwriting in which the lyrics matter and musicianship — although excellent — serves to deliver songs, not take over the show.

“The record definitely draws from our personal experience,” Essington said, “but the stories are also drawn from other areas. Zack is a big history guy, so we have references in the music to Casey Jones the folk tale hero and an explosion at an East Texas schoolhouse in 1937.”

Zach Landreneau plays a smattering of instruments from piano to synth chamberlin, and Kyle Smith rounds out the band on bass. Chris Walker is the drummer and sixth member, but Daniel Dowling played drums for the album.

The orchestrations are complex, so the group used extra players in the studio, though Kibodeaux said the band is one lap steel guitar away from replicating everything live with the current lineup.

David Thomas Butler produced the album, and he, too, goes back to Lake Jackson.

“David is a friend from high school,” Kibodeaux said. “He’s now a producer, and he really helped refine our sound and stretch our notions of what making music is like.”

Essington said he and Kibodeaux have several “hypothetical albums” ready to go.

“We write constantly,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when is the right time for a particular album.”

Print headline: Blue talent, Blue Water Highway Band cruises into OKC for a formal lesson in Americana showmanship.

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