“Think About It.” It’s a simple, evocative phrase with the potential to mean just about anything that anyone can project onto the words. Is it meant as a cautionary tale? A prompt to let wisdom from experience sink in? Or is it simply the act of being left alone with one’s thoughts, looking back on a life in songs.
The title for Kevn Kinney’s 10th solo album is only the doorway into a collection of songs that move at a dreamlike pace. Sink a needle into the album’s pearly white-vinyl grooves and the atmosphere grows thick with internal dialogue, self-effacing humor, and lonesome ruminations. For this latest offering, Kinney embraced the solitude of life under quarantine conditions to summon a deeply personal album. Melancholy wit and memories collide in layers of rich string and piano arrangements that coalesce in songs with titles such as “Catching Up To Myself,” “Stop, Look, Listen, Think,” and “Half Mast.”
The A side favors primarily acoustic performances with jazz and folk leanings. Laur Joamets’ longing pedal steel in “Catching Up To Myself” and “Wishes” are matched with David Barbe’s production, which wholly ties together the album’s glowing and introspective tone.
In the opening title track, Kinney slows down the pace to in a devilish aside: “Ask yourself, should I? Could I?” His questions paint an image that hangs in the air long after the album has stopped spinning. It could be an internal narrative coming from the perspective of a beloved family dog who’s eyeballing a piece of food on the kitchen counter. Or it could be an existential quandary between two folks sitting next to each other at a bar, about to make a bad decision. Whatever the case may be, all are mile markers on the road to determining one’s place in the world, and the answers never come easily.
Throughout the album, a coterie of Georgia music royalty, including Peter Buck and Bill Berry (R.E.M.), Laur Joamets (Sturgill Simpson, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’), Brad Morgan (Drive-By Truckers), bass player extraordinaire Kevin Scott, and more play with subtlety and nuance. Their presence on the record demonstrates Kinney’s impeccable taste in selecting sidemen. Peter Buck plays his original R.E.M. 12-string Rickenbacker throughout the album’s B side, picking up a jangle-rock pace. But it’s Kinney’s poetic, lyrical portraits of the situations and the people he’s encountered along the way that bring the music to life. Kinney has long lived something of a troubadour lifestyle, both as a solo artist and performer and while singing and playing guitar with Drivin’ N Cryin.’ His experiences crown the 11 songs that make up Think About It. Each number emerges from a seemingly bottomless wellspring of memories of navigating long drives on the road and the kind of barroom conversations that take place between the soundcheck and showtime.
There is a veiled autobiographical tone swaying between the somber frustrations of “Wishes,” “Half Mast” and the album’s closer, a Southern take on an Irish a cappella ballad called “Never The Twain Shall Meet.” The closing number absolutely pulls the air out of the room. But it’s the sly and confident swing of “Shapeshifter Grifter” that is the heart and soul of Think About It. As the song’s spoken word jazz musings unfold it’s clear that this is the catchiest tribute to Sun Ra, Howlin’ Wolf, and Col. Bruce Hampton the world has witnessed yet. “Think of a number between one and a hundred!” All the answers lie within.
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