Kevin Gordon

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Gloryland Review

by Hal Horowitz

He doesn't release albums often, this is his first in seven years, but when Southern poet/singer/songwriter/guitarist Kevin Gordon does amass enough material for a full-length disc, it's not only substantial in bulk -- this one runs nearly an hour -- but it's filled with quality music that justifies the obvious care and craft he dedicated to the project, and which can't be rushed. The melodies are solid but he applies considerable effort to the lyrics for Gloryland. They are plentiful and drive at least two story songs, in many ways similar to how Dylan used words to push the groove during his Highway 61 period, although without the stream of consciousness non-sequiturs of say, "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." That's especially true on the ten-minute high school band reminiscence of "Colfax/Step in Time" that describes in exquisite detail what seems to be his own coming of age. It's also the oil that motors "Bus to Shreveport," about attending a ZZ Top concert that ends up in a violent street fight after the show. In between, Gordon crafts some lovely ballads such as "Pecolia's Star," a song about folk artist/quiltmaker Pecolia Walker. Musically, he sticks to the stripped down swampy folk and rock that have defined his recordings in the past. Gordon's dusky voice, somewhere between J.J. Cale's, Mark Knopfler's, and Tom Petty's, perfectly frames these literal stories, often of life in the South and those struggling to get by. It's a near-perfect match between music and lyrics on a song such as "Black Dog," that growls and barks like the titular animal. The poor man looking for a handout to fill his gas tank in "Trying to Get to Memphis" begs a philosophical question that also incorporates a "what would Jesus do?" conundrum. It contrasts with the lyrics "I'm just another witness to my own defeat" in the moody, edgy "Tearing It Down." The haunting "Nine Bells" borrows an oozing groove from Lucinda Williams, who Gordon has worked with, as the song increases in intensity from its strummed intro to an evocative and dark finale. Two drum sets keep the beats percolating and provide extra heft on the closing Stones-styled rocker "One I Love," and even on the story song "Side of the Road." The latter makes room for gospel backing vocals and one of Gordon's tensile guitar solos. Between the exquisite wordplay and dusky melodies, there's plenty to return to in these tunes. Let's hope Gordon's fans don't have to wait another seven years for a follow-up.

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