Essential New Music: Antietam Plus’ “His Majesty’s Request: A Wink O’Bannon Select”

In every local music scene, there’s a person who knows. They know the tunes, the sounds and the ways to put them together, and they school folks who often move on to become better known. In Louisville, Ky., Wink O’Bannon was that guy. While his recording and touring profile was not high (he played guitar in Bodeco and, for a brief spell, Eleventh Dream Day), O’Bannon loomed large to the people who took guitar lessons from him or received curmudgeonly wisdom from behind the bar at Seidenfaden’s. When O’Bannon fell ill with cancer in 2019, the news hit fellow foundational punks Tara Key and Tim Harris (of Antietam and the Babylon Dance Band) especially hard. Not only had he been their mate for more than four decades, he had shared a stage with them just months earlier. 

Determined to show some support, Key texted O’Bannon and asked for his 10 favorite songs. She got back a list of 50, and then Antietam set to partnering with musicians who knew him and/or them in order to record an album as a gift. COVID slowed the whole thing down, and when O’Bannon died on June 30, 2020, he hadn’t heard a song. But eventually it came together, and now His Majesty’s Select is available from Antietam’s Bandcamp site

The sterling lineup of contributing artists includes Will Oldham, David Grubbs, Sue Garner, Tara Jane O’Neil and members of Yo La Tengo, Eleventh Dream Day and Freakwater. Antietam backs most of them, and Key delivers some guitar solos incendiary enough to put a funeral pyre in the shade. The 15-song selection navigates O’Bannon’s passions, from 1960s AM staples to punk deep cuts to jazz themes, given treatments that range from reverential to rambunctious.

Depending on your mood, any one of them could hit the spot like a ball launched by Louisville’s most famous lumber product, but if you’re curious, start with O’Neil’s crushworthy treatment of Dionne Warwick’s “This Girl’s In Love” or Sue Garner, James McNew and David Grubb’s glowing version of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” In recognition of O’Bannon’s long-standing service as a guitar teacher, revenues from the project will benefit Girls Rock Louisville and AMPED.

—Bill Meyer