The Damn Quails are possibly the most talked about pairing to come out of Oklahoma since the union of Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Singer/songwriters Gabriel Marshall and Bryon White have had a standing gig Monday nights at The Deli in Norman with shows backed by a rotating group of musicians simply referred to as the Quail Philharmonic. The result has been songs never being played quite the same each time.

That experimentation has resulted in possibly the most solid 14 songs of the year in their debut release, Down the Hatch, an album that can’t quite be nailed down to any one particular style. It runs from country-tinged alt. pop to good old fashioned homespun porch jams.

One of the duo’s strengths is the alternating lead vocals. Bryon’s has a smooth beauty, while Gabriel’s has a rougher edge. They are distinct enough that they keep each song fresh and different, but similar enough to complement each other.

Down The Hatch kicks off with “A Better Place to Stop”, a prime example of the Quail Philharmonic experience. With 3 guitar tracks, bass, violin, harmonica, accordion, banjo, and drums you need an 9 piece band to perform it live. The instruments are added a little at at time and before you know it you have a wall of sound. But even with so much going on, it doesn’t feel in the least bit cluttered. In fact it would seem bare without it all.

The second track just might be my song of the year. “Midnight Swagger” is a beautiful piece of jangle pop. Vocals so smooth they melt. It’s one of those songs that when its over your left wanting more, so you play it again.  I had to play it 3 times on my first listen before I could bear to move on to the next song and still didn’t think I heard all the layers. I couldn’t wait to get through the rest of the album so I could listen some more. Also, I realized I need better headphones to truly do it justice.

“Another Story” is one of those good old fashioned country jams. Once again Bryon’s vocals are standout.  Combined with the violins, they convey perfectly the longing in the main character’s story, which, according to Bryon, was inspired by a little vacation spot he goes to on the lower Illinois River near Gore, Oklahoma, and a girl he used to take there.

“So So Long” is countrified power pop that is reminiscent of Sister Hazel’s last release and is a prime example of Gabriel’s and Bryon’s stellar harmonies.  The pop sound is absolutely intentional. Gabriel says he was reading an interview of Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and he said something about purposely not writing pop songs. It inspired Gabriel to intentionally write a pop song. And the lyrics proved prophetic in regards to the blonde girl who Gabriel says was sitting next to him painting the Down the Hatch album cover as he wrote it. Oh, and the Hammond organ is a nice touch.

“Iceman” is the most unique sounding track on the album. Its reminiscent of an Eastern European dirge, complete with sad violin. Another of Bryon’s compositions, he was “inspired”, so to speak, by Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, a hitman for the mafia and part time serial killer whose wife and kids knew nothing about his double life until his arrest. Bryon says after he wrote it he was creeped out and didn’t sleep for days.

The remainder of the 14 songs are just as strong. Not a weak track in the entire release. The stellar songwriting, incredible vocals, and layered production make this one of the most well rounded albums of the year. Each listen yields subtleties you previously missed. Down The Hatch has definitely earned its place in Essential Listening.

The Damn Quails – Midnight Swagger
The Damn Quails – Better Place To Stop
The Damn Quails – Ice Man
The Damn Quails – So So Long

The Damn Quails official site, The Damn Quails on FacebookThe Damn Quails on Reverbnation, Buy The Damn Quails


  1. Totally understood your take on Midnight Swagger. I play that one probably the most often. Layers is how i think of it as well. I listen to this album EVERY day, many times each day, and have for the last four months since it was unofficially released. Each time I listen, I want to listen again and again, never feeling that all the corners have been turned yet. I appreciate that you really broke some of the songs apart and delved into the musical composition and writing. That is what makes this album so astounding. Of course, it takes the incredible melding of all the unique talents of the entire Philharmonic to make it work so well. In addition, they are genuinely nice guys you’d want to kick back, have a drink and shoot quail shit with. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Gotten pretty loose throwing that essential listening tag around. I’ve seen it like 10 times in the last 12 reviews.

    Lets back up a minute. The Damned Quails is about the same as every other band with a country/rock sound. New Lucero Songs/Albums = essential listening, damned quails….ummm maybe not.

  3. Hey Buzzman3535 if you don’t like the way someone writes reviews then don’t read them. I see dumb ass’s like you on the internet trolling every day. The Damn Quails are a brilliant and refreshing band….and you sir, are one ignorant piece of shit…Fuck you…that is all.

  4. Thanks so much for the kind words and the glowing review. We’re really proud of the record and glad it’s making its way around. Over here at the Quail camp, we realize not everyone is going to love what we do or even understand it, and we’re all fine with that. Music is something that I feel each individual listener can assign his or her own experiences and lessons to and decide for themselves whether it speaks to them or doesn’t. Not everyone is going to get it or even like it, and we truly enjoy hearing from people that didn’t just as much as from those that do. It gives us perspective. I also really love and always look forward to new posts. Keep up the good work, and come check out a show if you get a chance. Buzzman3535, shoot us an email, facebook message, or tweet if we get to your neck of the woods and I’ll pay your cover myself, maybe we can change your opinion with a live show. Thanks again for the great article, Sean. Gonna try like hell to get back out to see everyone soon.

  5. When Bryon Lee was around 2, I was playing my Les Paul through a Peavey VT Classic, probably some Boston stuff or Ted Nugent. Bryon Lee walked up to the amp that was about as tall as he was, grabbed the volume knob that was a little off of 0 and cranked it almost all the way up. Lol. I thought the little guy was getting electrocuted. After the windows stopped rattling and my ears stopped ringing he finally stopped shaking then started crying (yep I got in trouble). After that he was hooked and hasn’t left the volume knob alone!!! He is a pleasure to jam with, can make anyone sound like a pro and plays for the love of music not for the sake of playing. Bryon Lee my friend is a true artist and musician.

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