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Review: John Fullbright at Kessler Theater

Posted 11:06am on Thursday, May. 15, 2014

John Fullbright needed to confess.

“I’m more of a fan of music, than a writer or a player,” Fullbright said Wednesday night, in the midst of a brief tangent about the streaming service Spotify. “I listen to music like it’s food.”

But by the time his masterful, nearly two-hour set at the Kessler Theater concluded, anyone walking away thinking the 26-year-old Oklahoma native was merely “a fan” hadn’t been paying attention.

Fullbright consumes, all right, but more as a force than anything else.

Soulful shouts tear out of his body. He contorts himself in every direction, craning his neck to reach the microphone, with a harmonica brace dangling and his hands furiously working his acoustic guitar. He plays the piano, as he did for nearly half of Wednesday’s concert, with a rough physicality — keys aren’t pressed so much as punched — that could turn, as it did near the evening’s end, sophisticated and tender.

The piano, like any other instrument, including his expressive voice, is merely a means to end — the music’s coming out, by any means necessary.

Indeed, he performs almost as if the songs are peeling off a layer of his skin — Fullbright’s scalded reading of his own Jericho was breathtaking. He doesn’t want to give it up, necessarily, but he also knows he doesn’t have a choice.

The music just roars out of him, alone or surrounded by his ace backing trio: guitarist Terry “Buffalo” Ware; drummer Giovanni Carnuccio III and his bassist, Southlake native David Leach.

Quick with a self-deprecating wisecrack and taking the occasional swig from a bottle of Bud Light, Fullbright displayed the wise-beyond-his-years approach that has earned him an increasingly vocal fan base and landed him a Grammy nomination for his debut album, 2012’s From the Ground Up.

As his performance before the rapt Kessler Theater audience demonstrated Wednesday, it’s a mistake to peg him as just another young folkie on the rise.

Folk music is just one of the colors Fullbright has on his palette, and as evidenced by the extended blues-funk stomp of All the Time in the World and his searing take on Ain’t Nobody’s Business, he could easily enjoy a lengthy, satisfying career as an R&B revivalist.

Country, gospel, pop and rock, Fullbright forsakes nothing and folds in everything, making him, perhaps, an artist to whom the tag “Americana” truly does apply.

And he’s not all fury — some of the night’s most astonishing moments were pitched at a whisper.

The heartbreaking Until You Were Gone, a track from his forthcoming sophomore LP Songs, was rendered with the full weight of a relationship smashed to smithereens, just as Keeping Hope Alive and She Knows each bore the weight of maintaining a brave face in light of life’s troubles.

Fullbright showcased much of Songs Wednesday, the impetus for what the singer-songwriter described with a shrug as “a kind of CD release tour.”

Talking about the new record inspired one more Fullbright confession.

“It’s called Songs because I’m bad at titles,” he said. “I can’t even name a cat.”

What a loss it will be if John Fullbright ever begins to excel at naming cats.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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