KEVIN KERBY – KEVIN KERBY
Every once in awhile I take a stroll through my favorite albums. Eventually, I see some Jeff Tweedy when I am walking by myself with a wish of “Blue Sky Blues” I also see it in Kevin Kerby… It actually may have more faded boot flannel trucker jacket ego than “A.M.” The opening track “Take Me To Youur Leader” opens with a lone tape hiss that only suddenly fades when the typical acoustic guitar chords slice through the room he is playing in. It slices with a sharp blade of nails and love. I can feel the love here…
“A Guy Walks Into a Bar” is anything but a set up to a generic party joke, it’s dead serious in its alt. country / Bedroom Folk precision.
This self titled leaves a lot to the imagination, specifically, the next one. Please put it out soon…
6. Kevin Kerby, “This Wilderness”
Many of you may not have made it as far as Kerby’s contributions, listed last as they are on the Bandcamp page. If that’s the case, you’re a dumb idiot and I hate you, but you should hate yourself more, because you’re depriving yourself of Kerby’s wistful, witty folk songs.
From a review of a 4-track online only project I took (p)art in.
“His music is best described as muscle in a series of loosely-wound audio snapshots of Little Rock, wedged somewhere between Paul Westerberg’s know-it-all scowl and Jeff Tweedy’s ear for pop poeticism.”
– Bear’s Den, Conway, AR
KEVIN KERBY LOVES YOU, AND VICE VERSA
Nobody told you to be an artist, son.
You made the choice not to live comfortably in the world, not to opt for lucrative anonymity, but to battle and rebut the comforting cliches that earn most people their daily bread. You went to college, you got a journalism degree, you could have stuck it out in the straight world. You’re smart enough to see how things are, to know that the ones who really get paid studied how to massage money and the egos of the susceptible, the marketeers and packagers.
You could have done that too, you could have killed that thing inside, took it out behind the shed and put it out of its misery. You could have kept a guitar in the corner of the living room, to strum and draw out conversations. You could still hold it sometimes, sit with it out on the porch and make those familiar shapes with your fingers, cause the air to tremble a bit. No harm in that. Every man needs a hobby. Every man needs an alternate legend, a story about what could have been had his high school baseball coach not been so down on him. Forgone dreams lend a man a ballast of melancholy; they deepen the soul and serve as evidence of one’s willingness to sacrifice for his loved ones.
Instead you spent a couple of weeks at the Jacksonville Leader. You took up that guitar, you shook the air. Some people paid attention so you did it some more. You got close once, maybe a couple of times, you played guitar in a band that signed with a major label and went out on tour. You formed a band that people said was bound for bigger things. You took restaurant jobs that afforded you the luxury of doing what you needed to do at night, when you needed to do it, you got married and had a couple of kids.
You looked up one day and you were 35, and — while you were beloved, while people who didn’t even know you were moved to tears by the words you dressed in chordal chains and set swaying, while the warm ordinariness of your earnest voice flooded into their lives at desperate moments — you didn’t know what it was all about. You didn’t know what you were doing other than sitting around waiting to die.
Turn around, you’re in your 40s, and the spirit or whatever it is still fuses up through you, spoiling your sleep and making you write songs and carve connections with strangers. So you still play your shows, solo acoustic or standing in front of bands. You’re lucky. You’ve got a remarkable catalog, a bunch of records you can be proud of, from your days with Ho-Hum and Mulehead to the solo records. You don’t play a lot to indifferent bar crowds: People come to see you. Every couple of years you put out a CD, and people write nice things about it. People have nominated you for “poet laureate of Pulaski County.”
People think you’re great. They tell you that while you’re making their sandwiches.
There’s nothing wrong with making sandwiches. It’s honest work that pays for school clothes and notebooks and humble suppers.
But it won’t make you rich.
And so Kevin Kerby has decided to not get rich by playing music. Full time. He figures that he can make as much, maybe more, as making sandwiches and playing shows part time. So that’s what he’s doing, now that his kids are a little older — his 11-year-old son, Gus, played fiddle on the title track of his 2012 album Apostle’s Tongues.
It was a negotiation, he says. Every couple of years he’d have the conversation with his wife, Karalyn, about maybe going out on the road, giving it another shot, trying to achieve the escape velocity necessary to break out as, well, a regional act.
Which would help him sell a few more CDs, and allow him to raise his price, which might eventually mean a little more money, a little cushion for his family.
Kerby is concentrating on expanding his circle of influence, on playing shows in Missouri and Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi — anywhere within a day’s drive of his Little Rock base. To maximize the bang for his transportation buck, he tries to string together dates, staying out on the road for a week or so. A typical itinerary has him playing a show at the Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth on July 10; the next night, he’s at Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue in Tyler, Texas, and the next night he’s playing The Continental Club in Austin. (All those shows are acoustic-solo sets, where he’s opening for Texas-based singer-songwriter Graham Wilkinson.)
Kerby then comes home, and he’ll play a solo show at Bear’s Den Pizza in Conway on July 15. On the 18th he’s playing in Tulsa with Wink Burcham, who’s based in that city. The next night, Burcham will play with Kerby at Little Rock’s White Water Tavern. Kerby will finish off the month with shows in Hot Springs (The Copper Penny on the 25th) and Kansas City, Mo., (Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club on the 31st).
On his way back from Kansas City, he’ll stop off for a show in Fayetteville (Smoke and Barrel). A few days at home and he’s off to Austin and Dallas again. So it goes.
Kerby is realistic. He’s not going to be a rock star. The pop music business has devolved into a made-for-TV spectacle that has more to do with stylists and ginning up social media buzz than it does with producing memorable pop records. The cool kids today don’t even buy music; they don’t see how it isn’t completely and utterly disposable. They might download a single from time to time but it’s more likely they’re going to stream the new Beyonce or make up a YouTube play list. People think going on American Idol is the way you’re supposed to do it.
Not to complain too much, but a couple of things happened back in the day — back when they were getting Kevin Kerby hooked on this stuff — that eventually led us to this point. First of all, the record companies figured out how to sell music to people who didn’t really care for music by dressing it up as fashion and spinning these narratives about the characters — the rock stars — who allegedly made it. And then, in a plot twist worthy of Sophocles, they implanted the seeds of their own destruction by — for reasons that had more to do with greed than any aural advantage — reducing recorded music to a string of ones and zeroes — “to bes” and “not to bes” — that could, with a minimum of effort, be perfectly and completely copied by anyone with a computer and eventually uploaded into cyberspace where it might be pulled down for free by anyone who cares to click on a link. The result is a broken industry, where artists you’ve heard of regularly receive royalty checks in the low four figures representing literally millions of streams.
It’s hard to say exactly how much that costs the artist — if you’re paying Spotify $7.99 a month to stream all you can stream you’re not going to be as discriminating as you might be if you had to shell out $12 or $15 for a CD. But without the online streaming services, at least some of those millions of listeners would have bought the product. Maybe the $1,000 check becomes a $20,000 royalty check. Maybe it’s only a $10,000 royalty check.
On the other hand, if Spotify didn’t exist, there’s no guarantee that the people who spend $7.99 per month for a subscription to the service would buy more CDs or records or download more tracks from services like eMusic or iTunes. They might just download more illegal tracks.
In any case, anyone who wants to make money playing music has to do it the old-fashioned way these days: They have to get out and play and have people come to their shows. They have to negotiate with club owners. They have to watch their expenses. As romantic as the memoirs make it sound, touring has never been an easy way to make a living.
But Kerby isn’t doing it because it’s easy. He may not even be doing it because he wants to. He feels compelled to do it. He’s not content to be thought of in some quarters as the best songwriter in Arkansas, as one of those guys who could have been as big as anyone had only the cards fallen another way.
I don’t think he cares about any of that. Though he might like it when people say nice things about his work, none of the peripheral things matter as much as the work itself.
Words matter to Kerby more than they do to most musicians, who tend to get annoyed if you treat their lyrics like something precious. A song lyric is not a poem, but it isn’t entirely unlike a poem either. A good lyricist, like a poet, makes as much use of connotative ghosts that hide behind the literal meaning of a given word as the word itself. All writing is rhythm and flow, the arrangement of syllables to combat what is everyday and expected. A singer adds the quality of his voice, inflection and attack, the way he rolls up on some words while letting others slide out the corner of his mouth. Rock ‘n’ roll is mostly conversation, with some spikiness. Kerby gets that, and he never lets go of the fact that a song is an opportunity to say something.
Like a pocket Springsteen, Kerby writes songs full of admissions against self-interest and faux naive observation that reflect his Church of Christ roots. He sounds like one of us, although he’s got that restless, maybe slightly vainglorious seed inside him that won’t let him take the easy way, that won’t let him pretend he isn’t smart.
One thing people always say about Kevin Kerby is that he’s a treasure. He’s more than that — he’s an artist of the first rank. And that’s on him.
– Philip Martin via the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
APOSTLE’S TONGUES ALBUM REVIEW
It seems most folks who’ve been paying attention to music in Little Rock over the last couple decades or so have a story, or at least an opinion, about Kevin Kerby. Once you start to tally all these various tales, which I won’t be going into here, you’re left with a grand total of a legend of sorts. I guess I know better the legend of Kerby than the man himself. I’ve had far more conversations about Kerby’s music than I’ve had conversations with him. “Apostle’s Tongues,” his latest album, released last month on Max Recordings, adds yet another chapter to that legend and gives us a little more insight into the man.
With its title track, the muted strings of Kerby’s acoustic guitar marking time for the entrance of Todd Beene’s pedal steel guitar work. If Beene’s name seems familiar, that most likely stems from his work with Glossary and Lucero. After the first two verses, Geoff Curran’s bass joins in the mix. Curran is also credited with the electric guitar and organ work that appears later, as well as recording and producing the album. Curran has worked extensively with Kerby as both a member of Mulehead and Battery. The song contains a central break/refrain after which Kerby’s son, Gus Kerby, joins in with his fiddle. This strong opener may well be the most layered of the nine tracks on what seems to be a stark and stripped-down album when compared with previous Kerby projects. There are no drums on any of the songs.
But don’t confuse stark and stripped-down with simple and easy. Stark and stripped-down doesn’t provide many places to hide flaws or mistakes, and it certainly does not foster poor or marginal writing. Kerby and his supporting cast seem to understand these challenges and meet them head on with confidence and competence.
The second song on the album, “My Suicide”, strips the mix even further, only using Kerby’s voice and acoustic guitar. The vocals are very strong here yet have a slight quiver to them. This seems fitting as the lyrics seem to be one man’s testament, addressing others’ perceptions or misperceptions about his own self-destructive attitudes and/or behaviors.
The third track “In a Room Full of Martyrs,” features some album’s strongest writing: “Some call it love / Some call it hate / Some call it will / Some call it fate.” It is that kind of sharp, efficient, cut-you-to-the-bone kind of writing that will garner you the unofficial title, “Poet Laureate of Pulaski County.”
The final track, “Brown Bottle Flu,” is another example of economical and effective songwriting: “I am dry but not dried up / I haven’t reached the bottom / Just the bottom of my cup.”
I was fortunate enough to get the CD and limited edition lyric booklet. I urge you to get one if you still can. Each of the nine songs gets it own page and is paired with what I assume is a photo from the Kerby family archives on the opposite page. I cannot think of a single Kevin Kerby show I have been to that he did not mention his family in some way. Sometimes they might be the butt of the joke but I have no doubt that he places a high value on family. Given a picture that recently surfaced on the internet of what I am guessing is Scoutmaster Kevin Kerby, I would like to point out that I noticed no fewer than three Cub Scout uniforms… and possibly a den mother? I guess we can add a strong connection to Scouting to the already complex legend.
Kevin Kerby is in his 40s now. He’s been doing this songwriting thing for a minute or two. There has always been some piss, vinegar and angst in Kerby’s music. There still is now, but it’s a more self-reflective, mature variety.
– Joe Meazle via the Arkansas Times