Tehee: Is Poor Man's Poison the new sound of Fresno?

The Fresno BeeMarch 14, 2013 

Here's a question for you music types: What is the Fresno sound?

I'm asked that question from time to time and tend to dismiss it without a real answer.

Keep in mind that a city's sound is defined by its most famous act. Think Athens and R.E.M. or Seattle and Nirvana. Liverpool will always be known for bringing four-part harmonies to pop music. Akron has Devo (and more recently the Black Keys). Even Bakersfield has Buck Owens and Merle Haggard (and Korn, if you want to go there).

We've yet to have that breakthrough, that one act that grabs national attention. Let's Go Bowling came close. Fashawn has a rep in the hip-hop world, but that's still coming from the underground.

Plus, Fresno (and I'm including any number of smaller Valley towns here) doesn't have one genre that stands out as producing more or better bands than any other.

We've had some really good indie-rock bands. There's also a strong hard-core and metal scene that is popular with kids. There is a large collective of folk musicians playing. Our rockabilly bands rip it up (so to speak), and the city has always had a strong ska and blues contingent. The hip-hop guys are always hustling.

Mostly, we have Steve Perry and pop wunderkind Ryan Beatty. Neither defines a sound.

So, we define our sound by not having one (a fact that should be appreciated as you continue reading).

Poor Man's Poison could change that.

Here's my thinking:

-- The band's success at the Texaco Country Showdown in January earned them $100,000 and national exposure (Jewel presented them the check). It also put them in company with Tracy Byrd, Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley, not to mention (but I will) Billy Ray Cyrus, LeAnn Rimes and Garth Brooks. It's the type of stepping stone that can go a long way, obviously.

-- The band has a loyal following. After the win, it had a run of well-attended local gigs, including a sold-out show at Hanford's Fox Theatre (the second time the band has done so). The band will kick off Clovis Rodeo month opening for country upstart Jerrod Nieman April 2 at the Warnors Theatre. Later that month, it will open for Darius Rucker at the Bob Hope Theater in Stockton.

-- This type of folky-acoustic rock is the genre du jour. Mumford & Sons just had the album of the year. The Alabama Shakes have gotten some serious hype, as have the Avett Brothers and any number of more obscure "hipster" bands. Mandolin players are no longer relegated to country-rock radio, it seems.

-- There are (and this is the big one) any number of deserving local bands waiting in the wings playing music of a similar vein: Copper and Glass, Underwater Track Team, Gospel Whiskey Runners, Lance Canales and the Flood. I'll put together a play list if you need. It only takes one to get the ball rolling.

That said, one wonders if the Fresno needs "a sound."

I tend to distrust a band that can't explain what it sounds like (everyone has influences), but there's something exciting about not being able to pin down what the local scene is all about.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6759, jtehee@fresnobee.com or@JoshuaTehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com

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