Kevin Salem

Ecstatic

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There was a lengthy five years between Kevin Salem's previous solo album and this third outing. Much of that time was spent playing on and producing albums by the likes of Giant Sand and Chocolate Genius as well as working and reworking Ecstatic, adding, removing, and rewriting songs in an effort to find a niche in a '90s pop universe that seemed to put less of a premium on pure songwriting, more on style. Luckily, the artist did not cow to the pressures of radio and allowed the music to find its own bearings, for his songwriting certainly bore unimpeachable fruits that have little to do with trend and everything to do with that nexus where emotion and craft cross paths with chance and experimentation. Although it is certainly timely (New Orleans rapper Michael Jackson, for instance, inhabits half of "It's Only Life"), the album also has the timeless quality that marks all the most outstanding works, namely exquisitely nuanced melodies and knotty lyrics that bypass the quick fix for something much more evolving and emotionally intense. There is no shortage of high-power assistance (Vicki Peterson, Donovan Leitch, Alice Temple, Barry Reynolds, Lydia Kavanaugh, and jazz keyboardist Rob Arthur), but Salem's songs are the true attraction here: the jazzy, early morning verses of "1000 Smiles" that break into glowing choruses; the tough but replenishing "The Medicine Down"; the harrowing "Home Again" and "End of the Addiction," the latter originally envisioned as a vehicle for Marianne Faithfull; the gritty, Tom Waitsian undertones of "Deep Dark Love." Ecstatic is a gorgeous, eclectic effort, flawlessly executed and etched with a singular imagination. If Rolling Stone hadn't already christened Salem as one of the finest new songwriters on the rock scene following 1994's Soma City, the songs on this album would certainly drive home the point with emphasis. It's his finest album to this point and one of the finest of the year.

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