Waiting on PHI

by Nick Pittman

Singer-songwriter Kevin Sekhani celebrates his oil patch roots on Day Ain’t Done.

Singer-songwriter Kevin Sekhani celebrates his oil patch roots on Day Ain’t Done.

After heading west to Austin some 20 years ago, Kevin Sekhani could have easily blended into the city’s massive music scene, becoming another of the countless mediums in trucker hats and mother of pearl shirts attempting to resurrect the ghosts of Sixth Street. Instead, the Hub City native stood out by bringing his roots with him.

Those Acadiana influences matured in the Austin sound and are ever-present in Sekhani’s new release, Day Ain’t Done. “There is a South Louisiana influence to my work as there is a Texas influence to my work,” says Sekhani. “I have been lucky in that way as my music really could be described as a tale of two cities. I carry, proudly, the influences of both places.”

Sekhani grew up in Lafayette, but would graduate high school in Covington. He returned to town for classes at what was then USL, but it was his musical endeavors that would more greatly shape him. After working with bands here, he ventured to Austin where he would spend about two decades making a name for himself with the help of names like Andrew Duplantis of Son Volt and performers who had worked with John Mellencamp and Patty Griffin. In 2010, Sekhani came home and helped form The Mercy Brothers with The Bluerunners’ Mark Meaux. Popular here and abroad — they would tour Sweden — the band moved on to other projects after its 2014 Festivals Acadiens performance.

Day Ain’t Done reflects the alternative country movement that has been brewing in live music for years. And while roots rock abounds in the Texas capital, few acts feature the fiddles and accordion the way Sekhani does. Along with them, there is a sense of place that proliferates through the record.

“Having had conversations with a songwriting friend of mine in Austin, he always would inspire me to write about where I am from and what it is like to be from such a special place,” says Sekhani.

Sekhani, right, with sideman Jonathan Herron in NYC earlier this year

On “Oilfield Tan,” he lives vicariously through those who make their living in the Gulf, singing the album’s catchiest phrase “and I’m waiting on PHI,” a reference to Petroleum Helicopters Inc., the company airlifting workers to and from offshore platforms. The song has enjoyed radio play on local stations since it was released.

“My grandfather, uncles, cousins, brother-in-law, etc., have worked in all areas of the oil business. So I have been around it. I have seen their hard work and dedication to the field and felt those hard-working folks should have a glass raised for all they do.”

His Acadiana upbringing shows through on other tracks, such as on the title track, where he calls out to T-Boy. On “Carol Ann,” the protagonist heads north on Interstate 49. Yet, as appealing as these may be to local audiences, there is a danger of cutting songs like these. Local audiences devour them, with Sekhani relating, “You can always spot the South Louisiana folks in the house as soon as I sing the PHI line ... they light up or howl!” But, will outside audiences understand them?

According to Billboard and iTunes, they do. In the past, Sekhani cracked the top five of Billboard’s European Americana charts and Day Ain’t Done debuted at the No. 43 spot on iTunes’ country chart. Internationally, the success continues as Sekhani was interviewed for a blues site out of Greece, and the record is receiving airplay on German Internet radio and gaining positive reviews in places like Belgium — a long way from I-49, T-Boys and PHI.

“Europeans are very fond of American roots music and really support it and are very knowledgeable on the American roots music timeline,” says Sekhani. “They have a great love of Louisiana and its culture and the same can be said for Austin and Texas in general.”