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Soundcheck: Beau Jennings and The Tigers - Heavy Light

The Norman music singer-songwriter inquires and inspires with a full band in tow on new LP.

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There is so much life in Heavy Light. Musically, Beau Jennings' band brings layers of bustling energy and bright tones, but it isn't just that. Life at its fullest is colored with hardship and hope, trial and triumph. Jennings' songwriting is at the crossroads of these opposing forces. While he sometimes uses these juxtapositions to echo the polarized state of American discourse, his focus is broader. Life is difficult, but love makes it rewarding.


Oklahoma tends to include Beau Jennings in its beloved folk/Americana box of homegrown talents, but Heavy Light is yet another reason this is shortsighted at best and wrongheaded at worst. There's no doubt that his songwriting is rooted in the tender storytelling of those genres, but even Jennings at his most stripped back, 2019's The Christmas Light, shows an artist working outside of categorical constraints. Beau Jennings is as much a power-pop or rock-and-roll artist as a folk one, and his band of regulars, The Tigers, brings this to the forefront.


On Heavy Light, Beau Jennings and The Tigers revisits the full sound of its major 2019 full-length album, The Thunderbird. Various tones of glimmering keys, hearty piano, and contemplative organ ensure the ivories soak in as much expressive room as the band's guitar strings and pedals. Occasional harmonica crests along the top of rock arrangement swells. Big sprinkles of tambourine, hand claps, and even cowbell at one point keep a sense of joy at play as if to keep the album's titular light in sight while heavier themes linger in the recesses.


Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen comparisons abound when discussing Beau Jennings' style, but he also ropes in some Leonard Cohen this go around, particularly on the chilly "I Know These Guys." That cut walks an unsettling line between empathy and distrust with political undertones. While it's an outlier in the tracklist, it signifies the darkness implied by the album's need for positivity. "The Comeback,” for instance, is packed with feel-good instrumentation, but it can't shake a persistent memory of defeat, using it as a springboard to question underdog ideology and redemption.


Some of it may be Jennings' vocal tone, which is never shy about its mild and characteristic imperfections. He spends more time in his lower register here than on prior releases, and he sounds a bit more grizzled and warbly for it. It's significant, then, when the title track finds him back in his mid-range to reflect on the album's themes. As he recounted in his recent spotlight episode of Grand Casino's Play it Loud series, this song was the last written for the album, and the title came before the lyrics.


When the album closer entrusts listeners with "May This Song Be in Your Heart," it is part mantra, part prayer. It provides tangible handrails when stability and goodness seem distant. It makes time for healing. It makes room for hope. When the album lingers on its final full-band strum, not quite resolving its chord progression, it isn't to prolong the doubt with which the prior half-hour wrestles. Rather, it is here that it reclaims its faith. It passes the song to the listener like a relay hand-off, believing the human spirit in them will continue the race into the light.

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