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Yes! Weekly Presents: The Small Batch Songwriter Series at Gibb’s Hundred Brewing

(Last Updated On: January 13, 2016)

At 5pm on Sunday, January 17th, the Small Batch Songwriter Series will pick back up at Gibb’s Hundred Brewery. Having already featured such performers as Dean Driver, Bobbie Needham, and Carrie Pazdziora, the upcoming series will have both solo artists like Emily Stewart and Matty Sheets and local songwriting duos like the award-winning Chrysocolla and members of the Rinaldi Flying Circus.

It will be kicked off on January 17th by James Olin Oden, a Raleigh-based multiinstrumentalist, and Christian Wray, a budding Greensboro songwriter.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day, but the Bomb came out on New Year’s. Christian Wray’s first release has the confidence and wry aggression of punk, the atmospheric instrumentation of Pink Floyd, the lyricism of folk, all stoop-shouldered under the ominous menace of the Nuclear Era’s first decades. The eponymous opening song starts with the scratch of a turning record and a jangly piano/guitar intro referencing the Ink Spots’ recording of “We’ll Meet Again” (Vera Lynn’s recording of the same song accompanied the montage of nuclear explosions at Dr. Strangelove’s end, which Wray cites as a huge influence in his writing).

The tracks carry the weight of their lyrics with music that belies the underlying tension. Shifting from jazzy 50s pop rhythms to the acoustic folk stylings of “Nocturne City”, Wray’s music also makes a foray into the airy psychedelia of “You’ll Never Make That Plane, Poindexter (Part Two),” but comes unleashed in the furious political satire of “Vaseline.” Most of the tracks, however, stay intensely personal. The apocalypse becomes the setting for love and its questions, coming to rest in the hauntingly tender “Window Pain.”

Wray is 19 years old and brings that youthful energy to his music, but his powerful bass vocals and lyrical weight evoke the concerns of an old man. This is 2016—why the 70-year-old atomic imagery?

“Dr. Strangelove had a huge impact on me, and I saw footage of Hiroshima as a kid.” Wray told a little more of his childhood: “When I was little, every time I heard a plane, I’d run outside to make sure it wasn’t a bomber.” He lists Bob Dylan and Beethoven as musical influences (Beethoven’s face was peeking from Wray’s T-shirt at the show, over his Fender Stratocaster), and Wray said that he loves any good music. “Songwriters don’t think about genre. We write about what we’re scared of.”

James Olin Oden, on the other hand, is in his 40s, with a personality and joi de vivre twice as tall as his 6’7” frame. He is an intensely friendly and curious person, with a love of all things musical that shows as he pulls instrument after instrument from their cases—he currently lists guitar, tin whistle, bones, bodhran (an Irish handdrum), and oud (a fretless Middle Eastern lute) as his instruments.

Oden grew up in Texas and moved to North Carolina when he was 19. After playing in basements as a teenager, he set music mostly aside as life caught up with him. In his mid-30s, however, he returned to the music scene on a brief stint with the Irish Wolfhounds before becoming a solo act (though he often shares the stage with some stellar accompanists). A full-time computer programmer for Oracle, Oden knows that the musical life will come with a sacrifice: “If you’re going to be a full-time musician, you can’t have a mortgage and a car payment. It makes you decide what’s important to you.”

His musical tastes are eclectic as his instrumental interests: Irish is the most obvious influence, but he also pulls from the musical complexities of heavy metal and prog rock, the passion of punk and the Grateful Dead, and the rhythms of flamenco and Indian classical music. But fret not: for all its complex pedigree, his music is eminently danceable, sing-able, accessible, and downright fun. !

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