A swinging drumbeat and soft but searing harmonica melodies are ready to come undone shortly after pressing play on the new single “Funky Rhetoric” from star player Lee Oskar, but while the chemistry they have in this intro to the song is quite stirring, I would be lying if I said it eclipsed that of the melodic and percussive substance that await listeners in the next four minutes that follow. Oskar has been making a name for himself through the inventiveness of his songwriting, but in this specific single, I like that he isn’t getting too ambitious with the black and whites of the structure. This is harmonica-driven, all about big harmonies, and starts with as much intensity as it winds up whipping us with at its conclusion.
As far as the hook is concerned, Oskar was careful to avoid recycling anything too retro, likely for fear of sounding like a lot of the blues-rock revivalists who have been making noise in the scene lately. His is such an anthemic strain of the blues that it would be too easily lumped in with the retro sounds of his contemporaries in my opinion, and while he’s living in his own corner of the indie circuit right now aesthetically speaking, I don’t know that this isn’t a good thing for his long-term goals. If you’re going to be an icon, you can’t ride on the same trail everyone else is, and the artistry he’s presenting us with in “Funky Rhetoric” certainly isn’t that of a trend follower at all.
Conceptually, this single doesn’t need translation to feel the emotional weight of Oskar’s every move. Through tonal shaping that happens as much through his play as it does his management of the discord unfolding behind him, he’s able to give us all of the catharsis his melodies would reference without having to subtitle the groove for the unaware – many of whom have become the source of the critical acclaim “Funky Rhetoric” is getting this fall (myself included). There’s something transcendent about the message he’s producing in this song, and while I don’t know that it wouldn’t sound more beautiful were I familiar with the compositional language it’s being performed in, I can say now that this track sounds quite effective just as it is, no matter the lens through which we break it down.
“Funky Rhetoric” isn’t just an awesome way to bring this player’s autumn to a close; it’s an addition to his discography that gives us another dimension of his artistic abilities without concealing the possibilities that still sit on the horizon. He’s constantly getting better in the studio, a little tougher as a harmonica player, a lot more mature as an arranger and conceptualizer, and to me, Lee Oskar is one of the more important upstarts that music fans need to be paying attention to as 2023 comes into its fourth quarter. “Funky Rhetoric” is a hot treat, and perhaps the best sample of what this man can cut when all of the pressure to make something incredible is on his back.