CCR is a fun-ass bunch that’s blown better bands right off the stage through sheer energy and reckless abandon. Their original compositions incorporate Southern rock and Outlaw country, an amalgamation they call Red Dirt — and they’re not afraid to rehash 1970s rock classics.
The band realizes its stage power. Back to Tulsa marks their third live album in the past five years. Live albums by expert players can contain a wart here or there (a flat vocal, bungled harmony, bad lick, etc.). And these Okies aren’t expert performers. This album contains warts, hairy moles, and a couple of canker sores.
Mining two dozen tight songs from only two shows, and recording through the soundboard with no overdubs and no vocal tweaking is a tall order for this band, especially with guest vocalists adding occasional off-key contributions. Snipping a few Yoko moments here and there would have made for a better album. But what the band gives up in studio “do-overs” they make up for in fervor — playing in front of an adoring home-state crowd at the historic ballroom was obviously stimulating. (Cain’s was an early haunt of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and one of the few clubs that gave the Sex Pistols a gig during the band’s abbreviated and raucous 1978 American tour.)
Frontman Cody Canada is a stringy mixture of showman and shaman. His singing has improved over the years, and he’s developed into a decent lead guitarist, blasting out southern-fried rock-and-roll leads without devolving too far into Skynyrdesque histrionics. His between-song banter on this c.d. grows tiresome after a few listens, although there’s a fun bit of patter when he curses someone for throwing a beer, threatens to kick his “fucking ass,” and then tells the crowd, “Sometimes you gotta call an asshole out.”
Hardcore fans will love Tulsa’s inspired renditions of the band’s popular songs and the several surprises offered up. The new anti-war song, “When Will It End,” is refreshing to hear, and Stoney LaRue’s backup vocals are tasty, although in this case, an Operation Iraqi Freedom battalion should have taken out the harmonica player. The original ballads are good and the rockers invigorating (“Don’t Need You” and its wah-wah guitar are bitchin’). But it’s the covers that stand out most — versions of Todd Snider’s “Late Last Night,” Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Wanna Rock and Roll,” and Robert Earl Keen’s “Lonely Feeling.” And, no, let’s not count the “bonus” track, “Take Me Back To Tulsa,” a drunken abomination of the Western swing classic that is surely giving Bob Wills acid reflux in his grave at this very moment.