‘Swingbilly folkgrass’

By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – An upright bass + an acoustic guitar + a mandolin = an old-time, country or bluegrass band. Right?
Check your math again.
Oxford trio The Okratones features those instruments, but with Cecil Abels, Wendell Haag and Kevin Guyer playing them, the dynamic changes completely.
Blending elements of folk, bluegrass, rockabilly and swing, The Okratones play what the members call “swingbilly folkgrass.”

A sense of humor
The Okratones formed several years ago. Each of the band members knew the others, but had never played together. They tried it on a whim, and everything clicked.
“They started singing like brothers,” Guyer said of Haag and Abels. “It’s hard to stop these two from singing together.”
Haag said he appreciated Guyer’s musicality.
“He’s the kind of guy that music underpins everything he does,” he said.
Haag said that despite each member’s musical backgrounds and preferences, their sounds blend together organically.
“Despite our musical variety, we appreciate what every guy’s got,” Guyer said. “What binds us is a sense of humor. We think it’s fine if we put down our instruments and do Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’ in three-part harmony.”
About two years ago, The Okratones decided to put this unique sound on record.
“We tried going to a recording studio, but it was too much pressure and too much time,” Guyer said. “We have more than enough equipment to start a recording studio, so we recorded it at home.”
It took almost two years to finish the album, thanks to life’s little hiccups, but the guys wanted to make sure they were creating quality music.
“We stripped studio effects,” Guyer said, “and made it sound a little more like us.”
The 13-track album features Okratones originals, like the ode to Southern food, “Fried,” the romantic comedy “Hyphenated Blues” and the love letter to Mississippi, “Wingin’ It Home.”
The self-titled album was mixed and mastered by Jeffrey Reed at Taproot in Oxford, and it was released this summer.
The next step is to promote the album with a host of live shows.
“What we’re really looking forward to is moving forward,” Guyer said. “We have a whole bunch of songs on deck, and we have a new member (Mark Yacovone) that we need to get on board.”
Live is where the band really shines, Guyer said, because the men get to show off their sense of humor.
“We seem to appeal to everybody, from kids to older people,” Haag said.
That carefree, all-ages spirit is what makes The Okratones more than a mandolin, a bass and a guitar.
“We’re not confined,” Guyer said.

Check out music by The Okratones at

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