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Album Review – Zephaniah Ohora – This Highway

Rating: 9/10

I had never heard of Zephaniah Ohora until Megan mentioned him to me by saying that Trigger over at Saving Country Music had given his album a 9.5 out of 10 rating. Then, she dropped the words “classic country album”, and I was sold. I knew I had to at least give this unknown artist a listen and se what I thought.

I don’t know much about Zephaniah Ohora, but when I saw that he is from New York, I was excited to see what his music would sound like. As it turns out, he made some truly authentic country songs that could be timeless in terms of sound.

To start with, this album features some really well-done instrumentation. I like that on some songs, there is a touch of piano. Personally, I feel that the piano is a much under-used instrument in country nowadays. There’s some really well-done fiddle, too. By far, though, my favorite instrument is the steel guitar, which is fantastic all throughout this album. If I had to point to a specific moment where it really works, listen to the track “For a Moment or Two”. It’s a sad song in which a man is trying to lie to himself that he hasn’t lost his partner, and the guitar really sells the emotions of this song in a moment unlike anything I’ve heard so far this year. If I had to pick a favorite track off of this record, I’m pretty sure this would be it. It’s the only waltz time song on here, and a fantastic way to end the album.

The previous ten tracks aren’t bad by any means, either. The album starts off with “Way Down in my Soul”, which is a love song about how the woman he loves helped him out of a dark time in his life. There is some great fiddle play here, and its a very good opening track. “I Do Believe I’ve Had Enough” tells of a man who’s tired of the city and wants to move back to the country. I don’t think I’ve heard a song with this theme for quite some time, and I really appreciate it, especially since things are even more hectic since the time when songs like “Big City” came out. “Take Your Love Out of Town” is intriguing. The actual music of the song is country, but the tempo reminds me of something the Eagles might have done in the 70s. It’s not derivative by any means, but it just reminded me of the tempo on songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. The actual lyrics involve a man telling his lover to go and be with someone else, but he also says that if the woman misses him, she can come back home. He did her wrong, and he wants her to go, but only if she has no feelings for him. I believe this is a very realistic portrayal of emotions one would feel in this situation, instead of just saying that he wants one thing or the other. Human emotions are far more complex than that, and I appreciate Zephaniah Ohora being willing to capture that fact.

The title track tells about a highway that just won’t end. Given his occupation, I found that this song could be taken literally and metaphorically, where the highway is life. Either way, I like the song, although it isn’t one that completely stands out to me. One that does stand out for me is “Songs My Mama Sang”. It starts off talking about how a boy and his mother would walk their farm fields and she’d sing to him. The boy had his whole life ahead of them. Then, as a young man, he got a job and got lost in the rush of living, but all by himself, he sang the songs his mother used to sing to him. The song is pretty sad, but I like that it isn’t nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. “High Class City Girl from the Country” is a standout song for me, because it tells of a woman who likes fashion and keeping conversation light, and she’s all about the city life. However, she’s really from the country, and is trying to leave that all behind for the sake of being considered a fine and high class woman. This is true to life nowadays, I’d say, as a lot of people do exactly what the woman in the song did.

Now, we come to a really unique song. “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free” is about murder. Basically, the man in the lyrics tells the woman he loves that she can leave him, but when she tries he shoots her. He can’t deal with the fact that she would no longer be his. It was painful for him to do it, but he just couldn’t let her leave him. In terms of subject matter, this track is definitely different from all the others. You’d expect a song with this theme to be slow, but it’s more mid-tempo than anything. “She’s Leaving in the Morning” is all about a man being left by his woman, who now loves someone else. This song isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s not bad either. “He Can Have Tomorrow (I’ll Take Yesterday” involves a man who is telling the woman he is with that she can go and be with the man that she loves. Although she tried to make him jealous, he isn’t, and he only wants what they used to have. He doesn’t want her future, he wants her past. “Something Stupid” is the only cover on this album. It features Dori Freeman, who I really like. The song itself is all about someone trying to tell the person they’re with that they love them, but said person is very cynical and would only think that it’s a line. I haven’t heard the original, but I liked the lyrics. What I don’t quite care for is how Dori Freeman and Zephaniah Ohora sing the lyrics. Not their harmonies, but the notes they used, the melody itself. It just felt off to me. Like I said previously, “For A Moment or Two” caps the album off beautifully. It felt like Zephaniah Ohora really pulled out all the stops for this song in terms of lyrics and instrumentation. It really shows what he and his band are capable of, and it’s the track I keep coming back to.

Overall, I quite like this album. It truly sounds like it could have come out many years ago, but its subject matter is still quite applicable today. While Zephaniah Ohora doesn’t have a voice that particularly stands out, he is a good vocalist who is good at capturing many different emotions. I have to agree with Triggers review where he talks about how he’s glad that Zephaniah Ohora didn’t attempt to put on a Southern accent or make Southern references. It really gives this album a unique quality, and separates it from everything else out there. The artist knows who and what he is, and he’s not trying to be anything different. I can only think of three downsides to this record. There are a lot of mid-tempo songs, so it could use more speed,. Not all the songs were memorable, as I’ve stated above. Finally, I did find it odd sometimes where the lyrics were placed within the instrumentation. It felt a bit off to me, since the lyrics occasionally came a second or two after I was expecting them. Still, I think if classic country is your kind of music, you need to check this out. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything with this kind of sound or appeal, at least in terms of the albums that have been released so far this year.

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