In the cookie cutter capital, in the home of the clone and the clown, the maverick is king. Music City has long been distinguished by the presence of the blues poet and Monroe, Louisiana's rock and roll bard, Kevin Gordon.
You won't meet any other MFA's of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop who can play solo rock and roll tunes of their own invention in open tunings on jazz boxes from the '50s with lyrics and licks that defy imitation, because there aren't any. And Gordon would be the last one to tell you that. When he's not burning that candle onstage, he's so soft spoken you got to come up on him just to catch his drift. He might look like he's brooding, but he's listening, and looking. He smiles, but slowly.
In this latest and long-awaited release, the music jumps less and digs deeper. It's more trancelike, more hypnotic, but in a bluesy way.
His partners are like-minded and under the radar characters he's done jobs with before. Guitarist Joe McMahon is an atmospheric tone junkie from the Bo Ramsey side of the tracks (another sometimes Gordon cohort who cameos on this record), and his co-producer role results in an ambience more like a sense of place. McMahon and Gordon have a sonic chemistry that's better felt than phrased. Colin Linden shows up as co-writer on "Calhoun," and it's very good news to see that Gwil Owen co-wrote half the dozen tunes on Burning. That pairing has always produced unique and very gritty, literate songs.
Certain to reignite the ardor of his fan base, Burning has a visceral live sound reminiscent of the electrifying show Gordon throws down. He is unfailingly well-received by the critics, because the quality of his writing and the honesty of his performance are undeniable.
Kevin Gordon tours the States regularly, don't miss him when he comes through your town. Visit his website for the schedule and more information about this essential artist who embodies what the term Americana is supposed to mean. Be sure to check out our review of his last release, too, Down to the Well, and the audio clips from that. But first, dig the clips on the Listen page for O Come Look at the Burning. • Frank Goodman
more photos by Brydget Carrillo