Album Review: The Thunderbird by Beau Jennings and The Tigers

Beau Jennings’s The Thunderbird is a prime example of the great American rock record, weaving in ‘80s rock influences and Okie anecdotes.

A message from the Make Oklahoma Weirder team: this article was originally written by Evan Jarvicks in 2019 and is being released as part of MOW’s “VVeirder VVinter Vault” of 2023.

On “The Other Side”, Beau Jennings meditates on a great divide, but he never acknowledges it directly. He looks from one side of the chasm toward loved ones that stand out of reach on the other. From a songwriting standpoint, it would be easy to rhyme “side” with “divide,” but he avoids it. Though it may seem like a small, even contrary decision, it makes all the difference. “The Other Side” instead focuses on unification.

While Jennings isn’t so naive as to think people on different sides of an issue can be brought together on the strength of his song alone, he does plant seeds for later consideration by offering a poignantly simple way to reach across. Spoilers: it’s in the bridge of the song (see what he did there?).

Similarly, The Thunderbird uses storytelling to pare down a modern mess of sociopolitics to its bipartisan roots. If the narrative seems simplistic at times, that’s a testament to the songs’ efficiency in conveying the dynamics of 21st-century American life. One needs only to hold the songs up to the light of current events to reveal the complexity within.

For a record as conscious as The Thunderbird, Beau Jennings and The Tigers brew some awfully catchy tunes. “Shakin'” views Oklahoma earthquakes through the lens of an oilfield worker; an unperceptive listener might mistake it for a dance. “OK Death Row Blues” is about a person on the verge of lethal injection in a state where botched executions make national news; tambourine and “do do do” vocals make for a sunny chorus nonetheless. “Gettin’s Good” delves into the immigration debate; bright organ and handclaps celebrate.

The full rock and roll sound on all of these tracks is lively and inspired. The Tigers have incredible chemistry, and this plays into The Thunderbird‘s themes of togetherness in diversity. Instead of tracking the songs piece by piece, the band performed live in the studio to capture its musical bond and intuitive energy. These long-standing musicians have not only played with each other for years, but they also possess a century’s worth of past experience between them. It’s the primary reason that The Thunderbird sounds this well-built despite the recording process.

Beau Jennings has cited 80’s rock records as a prevalent inspiration for the album, and those fingerprints are easy to find. Perhaps some listeners will find The Thunderbird too derivative in that regard, but there’s an argument to be made that he uses that fabric of American music to contextualize present-day issues. Ironies found in the likes of classic Springsteen are as relevant now as ever. While The Thunderbird is an Okie album through and through, it uses the Oklahoman experience to watermark a significant time in U.S. history as a whole. This is Beau Jennings’s great American rock record, a milestone for both his career and the culture at large.

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aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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