Comfort in the Static

Kenny White

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Comfort in the Static Review

by William Ruhlmann

Singer/songwriter/pianist Kenny White has a way with music, which he expresses in both his jazz-tinged keyboard work and his breathy, rangy tenor, and he also has a way with words, with which he packs his songs, employing internal rhymes and clever turns of phrase to get across self-conscious, introspective impressions. He may be closer to Mose Allison than to any traditional folk-rock singer/songwriter, though he has the wit of an Elvis Costello to go with the mastery of language of a Jackson Browne. He also has a precise and caustic sense of where he stands in the general scheme of things in the contemporary pop/rock world, which comes out in "Gotta Sing High," a song that comments on the music business of the 21st century as trenchantly as "So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n' Roll Star" did in the '60s, and as Costello's "Radio Radio" did in the ‘70s. "You sit there all day putting meaning into songs," White sings, no doubt addressing himself, "If you're looking for a hit, you're going about it all wrong/All that psychobabble and mouthfuls of clever/I'll tell you when you'll hit the charts… how about never?" So, then, how can a thoughtful singer/songwriter/pianist succeed? White, recalling the breakthrough of James Blunt as an adult contemporary/adult alternative/adult Top 40 star, knows the answer. "You gotta sing high," he sings, demonstrating by going falsetto, "then even higher/Gotta look sensitive, mess up your hair/But not like you meant to, sing things like ‘You're beautiful'/And then repeat the line, and then repeat the line." This, of course, worked for Blunt, and it does seem to be the only way to the top for performers of White's type. But, of course, he's too good for that, or, at least, too self-aware. Instead, he's going to stick to that psychobabble and mouthfuls of clever, as he does for much of Comfort in the Static, and music fans who enjoy sarcastic rather than sensitive singer/songwriters will come along for the ride. Meanwhile, James Blunt is probably crying all the way to the bank.

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