Friday, May 13, 2011
Review: High school musicians in Dallas create rousing EP, Booker 3, Vol. 2
The three artists sound like seasoned vets of the music biz.
Of the many eyes and ears that have taken notice of talent-laden magnet school Booker T. Washington in the Dallas Arts District, four (if we’re including eyes and ears, of course) belong to Kort Peters, Dallas-based philanthropist, record producer, and do-gooder.
It was roughly this time last year that Peters decided to take a new approach to showcasing some of the musical talent in Dallas. His idea? Find three of the top musicians at Booker T., bring along an established local musician, and together, put out an EP featuring the tunes of Dallas’ most promising young talent.
The EP, called Booker 3, Vol. 2, is a breath of fresh air, with the three artists equally contributing to the three-song album. It's an impressive offering for Booker T.'s next crop of Top 40-makers.
Making the album
Prior to Peters' initial visit to Booker T., he knew little about just what occurred in the confines of the magnet school, and he was unaware of the copious level of talent cutting their teeth within Booker T.’s walls. As the former stomping grounds of such musical heavy-hitters as Norah Jones and Erykah Badu, to say the level of talent at Booker T. is abundant would be a tremendous understatement.
“Once I finally met some of the students and heard the music they were making, it was just, wow,” Peters said.
He recruited Cary Pierce, vocalist and guitarist of Dallas-based rock band Jackopierce, to serve as co-songwriter and producer to three of Booker T.'s finest young musicians. Their final product – Booker 3, Vol. 1 – was a tremendous learning experience for the students and Pierce alike, and one that set the bar high for the Booker 3 series.
Flash forward one year.
Booker 3, Vol. 2, which was released in April, was intended to be even bigger, stronger, and more impressive than their first effort. It features Tiger Darrow, 18, Danielle Grubb, 18, and Ben Higginbotham, 16.
Higginbotham heard about the unique opportunity through his music theory teacher, and he, along with the Darrow, Grubb, and other students looking to land a coveted spot on the Booker 3 album, sent in a CD with recordings that gave Pierce and Peters a spot-on indication of each artist's sound. For Higginbotham, it was a Jamie Cullum-esque version of Radiohead’s “High and Dry.”
From there, it was full steam ahead: writing, recording, mixing, producing, learning.
“I had never really written a song with anybody before, so writing with Cary was a totally new experience for me, a great one too,” Higginbotham said. “We wrote it over some enchiladas at a place down the street.”
Higginbotham’s song, a keyboard and brass-infused celebration that would make Ben Folds blush, is the final song featured on the album, preceded by the dulcet tones of Grubb and Darrow.
Grubb’s tune, the album’s first track, is a high-energy explosion of sound that would appear to have roots in '90s rock. She sings with a behind-the-wheel intensity, whaling over an urgent and head-nodding chorus. The production on Grubb’s track, along with the albums other two jams, is simply terrific.
Sandwiched on the album between Grubb and Higginbotham is Darrow's track. With nationwide touring experience under her belt in addition to appearing in over a dozen films, Darrow, at 18 years old, is the kind of person that makes you feel woefully incompetent. To encapsulate her sound, combine Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, and Kate Nash, then subtract 68 years from their collective age.
“It was so evident during the recording that everyone really wanted the best out of this album,” Higgenbotham said. “I think it definitely shows in the final product.”
On Friday, the Booker 3 will perform separately as part of Booker T.'s Taste of the Arts, an event that showcases some of the top performers the school has to offer.
“These artists just need to be given opportunities – no matter what part of life you’re in or how much talent you have, if you don’t find the opportunity to make room for growth, you can have all the talent in the world, you’ll just miss out,” Peters said. “My intent is give them the opportunity they deserve.”
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