30 Reviews in 30 Days: #3 & #4
I’m woefully behind on my personal challenge to review 30 albums in 30 days. Today, we’ll kill two of them.
Then: Thunderfoot – Southern Discomfort
I first met Kevin Fowler after discovering him via a 2-disc sampler I picked up at the 1995 SXSW Music Festival. I lived in Wichita, Kansas at the time and was on the lookout for bands to book in local clubs, particularly the Rock Island. Their sample track caught my ear and I ordered up the full bio – somewhere I have that stashed in a file, but I’m not digging it out. They went over well during their few bookings over the next year. Little did we all know that we were seeing the last of Thunderfoot during those days.
1. Midnight Train – Southern Discomfort opens with the strains of a ‘talking’ guitar via an effects pedal, to emulate a train whistle. “Midnight Train” is more about drinking, illicit drug use and wild living than it is about an actual train. Kevin Fowler, as lyricist, shows his chops as a story teller.
2. Huntsville – The banjo player in the opening refrain is not credited, but Walt Redmond on harmonica is and he makes an appearance in several other songs on the album. A story in the lyrics, similar to Johnny Cash and others.
3. Good Guys Wear Black – Lynyrd Skynyrd influence is evident in this anthemistic song in the overall feel and sound. “Good’ll get you nowhere, bad’ll get you far” can be easily shouted by a drunk crowd with bottles raised high. Mike Dennis showcases his skills in the bridge. And live, it is a song that could go on a lot longer than the 3:43 minutes of the album version.
4. Never Say Goodnight – This is the definitive love song on the album, reminiscent of the softer stuff of Great White’s hits. It is a song about loss of a love, about how a woman can turn a man inside out. And despite all the stuff that is done, he still loves her.
5. Hell and High Water – A breakup song. But one that is self-deprecating.
6. Take Me Lord – Bluegrass gospel feel on an acoustic opening. “We all must get along.” Here it is evident to my ears now that the new country is the old Southern Rock and easy to see why Kevin made the genre crossover and went solo in 1996. Lyrically, it is akin to the grunge lyrics coming out of Seattle – but more in a sense that it’s not a self-wallowing, but a why can’t we do something about the way the world is going. “I’m trying to make the whole world see that we all must get along.” This is essentially a gospel song as much as it a protest song in a sense. Yet, the lyrics have a timeless quality. They are just as relevant today, if not more so, 20 years later.
7. Sweet Marie – After the mellow plea to the heavens, a uptempo beat takes hold. An ode to a lesbian, and all the biker dykes raise their glasses and kiss their own Maries.
8. Pushin’ Up Daisies – A dirtier sound on the guitar sets the tone as Kevin lifts a middle finger to the corporate world. His version of “Take This Job and Shove It” and so many others out there in the underground.
9. Old Muddy – Blues style back beat that reminds me of ZZ Top resonates through this song.
10. Shoot Me (I think I’ve Fallen in Love) – In my opinion, while the chorus is strong, I want this song to be better than it is. It is one of the weaker tracks on the album.
11. Find Another You – Again, I want this song to be better. The vocals on this track are weary, but perhaps that is the effect that they were going for, a throat raw from crying.
12. It’s Not Me –
13. Burnin’ Bridges – This sounds like a bonus buried track that might have been stuck after a long pause, but it’s an actual track. The acoustic is well mixed with just the guitar and Kevin’s voice showing it’s raw harmonious strength. It is still a southern rock/southern blues type of song, despite the acoustic. Think Tesla’s acoustic version of “Signs.” It is a good way to end the album.
Overall, this album has stood the test of time for me. I go back to it for road trips and have used a track or two on a mix. It doesn’t get as much airplay for me as it used to, but it does get packed when I travel with my husband who was weaned on 70’s rock and listens primarily to country now when left to his own devices. It’s hard for us to meet in the middle. Kevin Fowler’s Thunderfoot is one that we can.
Kevin Fowler – How Country Are Ya?
When I returned to SXSW in March 1996, Kevin Fowler had ditched his bandmates and gone solo, with some new backup chaps. He had gone country on me. I should have seen it coming, but hindsight, you know. He still possesses the DIY ethic and tours the region relentlessly as he promotes his craft. I could have bought the new album directly as a presale package, but I hesitated. It was just the darn title of the song that was prereleased. I may have grown up on a farm, and know a few so-called country things, but I am not “country” as my soul is urban and I am more comfortable in a city where I don’t have to drive everywhere and can take the el home drunk.
A few weeks ago, I purchased the digipak album new at the local Hastings. It was on sale for $8.99, cheaper than what Amazon’s price is now for the CD or mp3 only (buy the physical CD (from Amazon), you get more bang with Autorip for your buck that way and you have something that can be signed at a live show). And until now, the CD has sat shrink wrapped in my possession. The following is my initial impression on a first listen:
1. Intro – Bluegrass then spoken word intro.
2. How Country Are Ya? – The first single released in advance of the album, according to all the posts on Facebook I saw from Mr. Fowler. An interview checklist for speed dating in the honky tonk. I’m out, I couldn’t fry chicken properly if you put a shotgun to my head.
3. Guitars and Guns – I hear old school country in this track, with a Bob Wills Texas Swing influence being heavy in the music.
4. Before Somebody Gets Hurt – Amy Rankin contributes on backing vocals but her voice is lost in the mix through most of the track. It’s a nice sentiment and the music is good, but poor Amy gets buried.
5. The Weekend – Lynyrd Skynyrd style so-called new country rock. Kevin Fowler’s lyrical chops are evident in the story-telling verses as we enter into the chorus. Keeping this a country song almost hampers what energy the song could have on a Friday night.
6. If I could Make A Livin’ Drinkin’ – Not a song you would want playing when you get pulled over by the deputy on that county road in the night. This is the energy and upbeat feel that “The Weekend” sorely lacks. The chorus has ringtone written all over it.
7. Panhandle Poorboy – His bio on the “about” page indicates that this is an autobiographical song. No reason to doubt him.
8. Borracho Grande – It is important to note here that Borracho is Mexican slang for drunkard. Mexican mariachi influence throughout and it reminded me of some of Bob Wills’ songs with that influence. In a lot of true Texas music, there is that confluence of the cultures that you can’t get away. Getting drunk is universal and so is love.
9. Love Song – A prototypical honky-tonk song.
10. Habit I Can’t Break – Are we really to believe that Kevin gave up drinkin’? I’m sorry but beer is still alcohol. Still the overall point of the song is that a woman and sex is something that can be hooked. And why the hell can I see my husband singing this song at the top of his lungs? You’d have to understand our f’d up history, but I digress. I can see this being a single for radio play.
11. The Girls I Go With – Painting a picture with poetic words and it links back into the title track “How Country Are Ya?”. Another potential single for radio play.
12. Beer Me – The lyrics speak to all those in customer service. A honky tonk anthem. Easy for a hit song if he could get it on more stations across America and Canada.
13. Mousturdonus – An instrumental featuring The Kevin Fowler Band. Slap bass, fiddle, steel guitar all featured, in fine form. Kevin’s surrounded himself with strong players.
14. Whiskey and I – As one grows older, one figures out (or at least should) that shots are not a wise thing.
15. Chicken Wing – Last track is appropriately placed, and it almost sounds like it could be a hidden bonus track, just like the last track on Southern Discomfort. Kevin has a tendency to end his albums with tracks like this, acoustic and a bit light-hearted – Ain’t nuthin’ but a chicken wing.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a good album. Those who know me know I’m not much on country, but respect it, so long as it’s not overt with Christian, gospel type praise the Lord lyrics. Kevin Fowler is not that type. His lyrics are accessible, the styles vary. The only things that keep me from rating this a 5 of 5 is the mix on the “Before Somebody Gets Hurt” and the downbeat feel of “The Weekend”.
Listening notes for these reviews: CD played on Samsung laptop using Windows Media listening through earbuds.