Casey Van Beek and the Tulsa Groove – Heaven Forever
CD: 12 Songs, 34 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Mellow Blues
Casey Van Beek is a living legend. Born in Holland but raised in Los Angeles from the age of five, he’s backed up Linda Ronstadt, along with two guys named Don Henley and Glenn Frey. When the duo left to start the Eagles, Casey headed to Tulsa with Don Preston to record with the Shelter People, part of Leon Russell’s Shelter Records label. Eventually, Casey joined Tulsa’s multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated band The Tractors, which included Casey, Walt Richmond, and the future Tulsa Groove member Ron Getman. Three members of the Groove (Richmond, Byfield, and Steve Hickerson), would back Bonnie Raitt during her tenure in Tulsa, playing shows in the area to (successfully!) protest the construction of the Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant. Walt would go on to play on Tulsan JJ Cale’s Grammy-winning Gold album collaboration with Eric Clapton, The Road to Escondido, so impressing Eric that he’s played on all of his albums since then. With a resume so vast and all-encompassing, it’s a wonder he’s still going strong nowadays.
His new album, Heaven Forever, is a compilation of twelve mellow tracks that might accompany you in a boombox on the front porch whilst you sip your favorite adult beverage. There’s not much edge or spice here, but no matter. You’re listening to a veritable deity of the Tulsa music scene. “Gods don’t die,” says Alan Strang in the 1977 movie Equus. Neither will the music of this dynamite Dutchman and his timeless Groove. Together, they present classic covers such as “Roberta” (Huey P. Smith, John Vincent), “Since You Said Goodbye” (Cale), “I Got Loaded” (Peppermint Harris), and “Sugar Bee” (Eddie Shuler). Van Beek and his ensemble engage in soulful harmony, and their instrumentation remains of the highest quality. Check out catchy number ten, “Whatcha Think About That?”, for prime evidence of this. It’s the most danceable, and young folks (40 and under) will think it’s pretty groovy as well.
The title track is a meditation on the afterlife. “Heaven, forever, whatcha gonna do with all that time in heaven, forever? Is it too late to change my mind? I guess we could take a walk, stop and listen to the wise men talk. It never gets too hot or cold when you’re walking on a street of gold, in heaven forever…” This blasé take on the place beyond the Pearly Gates goes perfectly with the CD cover art: Van Beek standing in front of an escalator in the clouds, cigarette in mouth, shrugging. Dare he ascend or remain where he is? Heaven sounds rather tedious in this ditty, but not the dynamite dobro by Jared Tyler.
Along with Van Beek (bass, lead vocals) are the aforementioned Walt Richmond on piano, organ and drums; Jim Byfield on lead guitar; Steve Hickerson on lead guitar for four tracks; Charles Tuberville on guitar; Jared Tyler on guitar, mandolin and dobro; Seth Lee Jones on guitar; Steve Bagsby on steel guitar; Steve Wilkerson on saxophone; Ron Getman on acoustic guitar, and Casey, Charles and Jim on background vocals.
Heaven Forever may not be paradise for fans of barroom blues. However, for those who love a harmonic ensemble with a pedigree almost no one else can match, it’s ambrosia to the ears!