Reviewed by Mae Hunt
I imagine Zephaniah OHora has an enchanting ability to sooth a roaring crowd using just his voice. Each track in his new album, Listening to the Music, is calm and steady, filled with a tenderness and humility that is rare in music today. Though controlled, the album manages to keep listeners on their toes with the inclusion of upbeat songs bursting with steel pedal guitars, fiddles, and even some much appreciated piano.
Originally from New Hampshire, OHora was introduced to music through his congregation’s worship group. It wasn’t until his mid-20s, after relocating to Brooklyn, NY, when he began pursuing music professionally after performing regularly at a classic country bar, Skinny Dennis. Since then, OHora has proved that you don’t need to be a native Southerner to create classic country music. Listening to the Music was created in tandem with the late Neal Casal, whom OHora hopes is remembered through his outstanding work on the album.
The twelve tracks are kicked off with Heaven’s On the Way, a song about appreciating daily life and enjoying the moment. Full of country twang, this happy-go-lucky song also features John Graboff on the pedal steel guitar. OHora sings, “We’re not worried about tomorrow, what’s comin’ around the bend. We’ll map it out together and raise hell along the way.”
Though the album starts off on a happy note, it certainly doesn’t stay that way. Black and Blue, for example, is about a romance-gone-wrong, layered with guitar riffs and colorful keys. Similarly, It’s Not So Easy Today tells the class tale of trying to overcome a bad heartbreak. The electric guitar wails in the background as OHora cries, “I’ve had time to see it my way. It’s not so easy today.”
All American Singer interrupts a slew of sad songs with its friendly optimism. Inspired by O’Hora’s own self-reflection in the wake of national political and social unrest, this song focuses on tolerance and equality. OHora says: “When it comes to crime and equal pay I think it’s time to find a better way. I’ll stand up for democracy, I’m proud to be an All American singer.”
Finding peace through O’Hora’s identity as a musician returns in the album’s feature track, Listening to the Music. The combination of OHora’s soft voice and easy-going acoustics allows listeners to get lost in the song. When he sings, “Sends a shiver down my spine, I felt the great divine, listening to the music once again,” I can feel that shiver down my spine!
The album’s final track, Time Won’t Take Its Time, seems to relay an acceptance with his own life. O’Hora explains how “30 is turning to 40” and that many of his plans have not yet come to fruition. Though a lot of his previous songs are focused on romance, he admits to finding peace in traveling through life “single and free.” He even graces us with a brief but impressive yodel to close out the track!
The album includes a range of emotions, from the palpable excitement in Riding That Train to the painful When I’ve No More Tears to Cry. Ultimately, OHora seems to suggest that we can find peace and solitude through good music. This quote from Listening to the Music says it all: “An old time country song comes on and I forgot my troubles listening to the music again.”
Listen to and buy the album here.