Okie singer/songwriter Ali Harter stings with a hive-minded new album, 'No Bees, No Honey' 

The Central Oklahoma singer/songwriter toured nonstop for months. When she returned later that winter, Harter was run "ragged" and problems had piled up.

"There was just so much going on," Harter, now 25, said, "and I was going through this horrible breakup. My first answer to problems is always to run."

So she ran " all the way to Duncan, where she had moved prior to her first European tour " and traded jet-setting, booking agents and French management teams for a forklift and an overnight shift unloading pallets at the Family Dollar Distribution Center.

Bonnie and Clyde
Harter was born in Oklahoma City and grew up near Kingfisher and Piedmont. In middle school, her dad bought her a guitar, and she quickly penned her first song.

Recalling the tune, she's embarrassed to confess its subject matter " Bonnie and Clyde " but Harter's youthful fascination with the American outlaws provide a theme that still illustrates her personality: rebellion, rambling and the open road.

She moved to Duncan, in part to help her sister, nieces and nephews during a particularly hectic time for the family " difficulties precipitated by her brother-in-law's busy military schedule.

"I'd pretty much given everything up by that point," Harter said. "I just sort of freaked out and needed to get away from everything." She had stopped touring, but it didn't take long for her to reach for her guitar to start writing.

"Most of my songs are just things I needed to say, but didn't. Once I've gotten it out there, I don't have to think about it," she said.

Reconnecting with Oklahoma City-area friends online, Harter also started corresponding with Matt Dylan Street, a metro musician who had moved to Austin, Texas, after playing in a few local bands, including a stint in Euclid Crash, an act that also hosted All-American Rejects guitarist Mike Kennerty.

Street returned to Oklahoma in early 2008; a few months later, Harter moved in. The two married last September, and earlier this month, the newlywed released "No Bees, No Honey," a 12-track album produced by her husband and recorded in a studio set up inside the couple's one-story, ranch-style Choctaw home.

Making 'Honey'
Tim McCoy, who has lived in both Los Angeles and Chicago, has enough albums to "open a record store."

The art and social media director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute and a freelance designer, he has musicians as clients and a good friend who owns a live music venue in Hot Springs, Ark., where he lives.

Needless to say, McCoy, 33, is "picky" about music, but Harter's voice alone was enough to convince him to check out a live show.

"This girl's got an amazing voice," he, said, comparing Harter's voice to Bonnie Raitt's, one of the singer's big influences. "It's really sexy and soulful. I was immediately impressed."

She performed at Maxine's in Hot Springs on March 14, and McCoy was there, despite learning about the songwriter just two days prior.

"It's even different when you see her live," McCoy said. "Onstage, she's really petite and there's this amazing, ballistic voice that comes out."

The Sunday crowd at Maxine's was small, which frustrated McCoy, who said Harter's offstage attitude made her all the more likable.

"She had this really cool Southern hospitality, like she'd make you lemonade or something," he said. "She has tattoos all over her arms and she's just hanging out, saying 'fuck,' being laid-back — I appreciate that in an artist."

"No Bees, No Honey" is Harter at her best. The folk-country album is sweetened by elements of Southern soul and R&B, which comes by way of church-revival-styled organs and horns.

Eighteen names appear alongside Harter's on the credits for "Bees," and the hive of guest musicians includes a host of notable Okie performers like singer/songwriters Samantha Crain and Camille Harp. John Moreland of Broken Arrow lent his voice to Harter for "On My Own," a crying harmonica- and Dobro-laden lament, while Kennerty provided against-type, effects-laden electric guitar riffing on "The Best Mess," which features plucky, upright bass and hula-strummed banjos.

"Never Any Good" is the queen of "Bees." Here, Harter backs her own raspy croon with soft "shoo-wops" and tone-only vocals that play against bell notes and long organ lines, which are laid atop crackling, vinyl-record sounds and occasional DJ-scratch accents.

Much of the guest spots were "first-takes," Harter said, adding that she invited musicians who could contribute specific talents and skills to the disc.

Moreland, who performs both solo and with Tulsa's Black Gold band, said his portion of the recording sessions were relaxed and easy. He and Harter have shared the marquee at scores of shows since their first appearance together in 2006, and over the years, Moreland said she has become less reluctant as a singer, and that he has noticed her signature, gravely rasp take on a more soulful, bluesy tone.

"Her voice is tough, but feminine," he said. "She's become a better singer, especially now that she's really not afraid to belt it out."

Music was the first thing Harter and Street "clicked on," so her spouse was an easy pick to produce "Bees." Street, a multi-instrumentalist, also performs on the bulk of the album, taking turns on guitar, bass, banjo, piano and background vocals.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Harter said about the mixing of her personal and professional relationships on the new record. "I do value his opinion more than anyone else's, but I'd be lying if I said we always agreed on everything."

The couple's differing opinions " even the occasional fight " just added to the album's intensity.

"There's passion and energy that goes into an argument," she said, "but it's my album, and that's all (Matt) wanted."

'Sweet Siren Wind'
Harter debuted "Bees" to a crowd recently at The Conservatory before leaving for shows in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. The mini-tour culminated with a St. Patrick's Day show at Austin's Cuba Libre restaurant, which hosted acoustic acts during the South by Southwest music festival.

She returns to Europe this week for a series of concerts in France, including two nights opening for French electronica artist Wax Tailor at the Olympia, an iconic music hall founded in 1888 by the Moulin Rouge creator that's staged concerts by swaths of big musical names, including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Morrissey and The Velvet Underground. Wax Tailor's latest, 2009's "In the Mood for Life," features "This Train," a single he co-wrote with Harter.

She returns home for an April 9 show at JJ's Alley Bricktown Pub.

Harter does most of her writing on the road, and since she's already booked shows well into summer, she expects to start working on her third album immediately. She said she works her songs out live before committing them to record, and plans a more piecemeal approach for the next go-round, regularly recording tracks during downtime between tours.

"This is what I want to do and I think I'm finally ready," Harter said, her delicate frame contradicting tattooed arms and throaty determination. "I'm not going three years between albums again. That's not going to happen again, I can promise you that."

Harter concludes "Bees" by taking in a cool breeze and the "sweet siren wind" of life on the run: "So honey, let's get out on the road / I've got that feeling that we gotta long way to go / Where we're going, no one really knows," she sings, "Let's close up that house and get out on the road."

photo/Mark Hancock

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