Album Review:Tom Skinner - "Tom Skinner"
By: Matt Bjorke
The music business, like everything else that makes up life, is about relationships. And in Oklahoma one of the best relationships an up an coming artist can have is a mentorship and subsequent friendship with Tom Skinner. Garth Brooks is one of his friends and early band members and later Stillwater artists like Cross Canadian Ragweed and The Great Divide have worked his songs into their set lists and albums and TGD's main frontman Mike McClure has helped keep Skinner going with a gig in his Mike McClure Band and now as a principle of 598 Recordings, he has recored a full-on Tom Skinner record and man, is this record a delightful record.
Skinner's songwriting is top-shelf variety, not unlike Neil Young, and perhaps nothing showcases his talent as a descriptive writer than on the uptempo opening "Trying To Meet Someone." A song about a man who keeps going on with life with the mantra of trying to enjoy it by trying to meet someone new, no matter where life takes him. The Shufflin "That's Where We Belong" is one of the best traditional country ballads I've heard this year as Skinner emotively sings about the end of a relationship and that he'll "be around if you ever change your mind, I'm not that hard to find, I'll be hang in' out with my friends." It's the kind of lovelorn ballad that is one can imagine the greats of yesteryear like Haggard, Jennings and Jones having recorded." "Christal" strikes the same emotional chord as a number of Townes Van Zant songs do while "Nickel's Worth Of Difference" is a story song about random things that don't seem to amount to much of anything separately but together they create a strong emotive song and a little .
As great as Tom Skinner is at writing songs, he's as emotive a singer and showcases it here with his rough-hewn tenor singing some great songs from friends like Gary Wayne Thompson, Larry Spears, Randy Pease and Reverend Gary Davis and a classic Hoyt Axton song called "Gypsy Moth." Thompson's "Hollis" is a strong story song while Spears' "Favorite Cup" wrings emotion out of every lyric. As a former baseball player, Skinner lovingly tells Pease's story about Eddie Roberts on "I Love This Game." The Reverend Gary Davis' "Light Of This World" feels like a modern hymn just as Hoyt Axton's "Gypsy Moth" is.
Yet, as great of an interpreter that Tom Skinner is with outside songs, "Way Back When" is his magnum opus, the creme-de-la-creme. Tom plays the Piano and producer Joe Hardy plays the strings and Mellotron on this delicate song about redemption and hope. It's about finding that one who becomes your saving grace, "she come dancing through my darkness, turned my water into wine, she found the light deep down inside me and she let it shine."
The making of this record has been a longtime coming and it really does feel like a masterclass of Oklahoma/Red Dirt Music by the real godfather of the movement, the man most respected in those artist circles. Tom Skinner is one of the year's best records and here's hoping that there are more records where this one came from.