It was two years ago I discovered Kenny Dubman with his incredible release “ Reckless Abandon”. I was a little shocked to see that all that time had passed as that album is never far away and has been played to death in this house.
It also came out of the blue as the New Jersey local had kept this one close to his chest. It also represents a complete change from the previous all electric CD. For “American Songbook Kenny has went back to his roots and recorded this as an acoustic album so he captured the songs exactly as he wrote them. Add to that the fact he decided to record these new songs in an intimate live show at Asbury Park’s Wonder bar and you have a recipe for greatness.
The first thing that hit me about this album was being pissed off…at being across the pond in Scotland and not being able to attend what sounds like a magical performance. As much as I love my full throttle metal and rock I have always had a soft spot for an acoustic number and some of my favourite gigs has been the likes of The Temperance Movement and Black Stone Cherry when they pulled up the stools and strapped on the acoustic guitars.
There is something pure, fresh and organic about an acoustic show and this album slips easily into my top 10 of acoustic releases. MTV may be well past its music playing days but the unplugged series left something in my soul, bands I had no time for I had to admit at least some form of respect after playing those shows and based purely on this album Kenny would have went down a storm on it.
The album opens with the crowd cheering and Kenny’s humble voice introducing “ Bottom of the Slide”.You are grabbed by Kenny’s rasp and the crystal clear guitar from the off. As much as I loved the songs on Reckless Abandon it was the lyrics that made each and every song special. As a songwriter Kenny is way up there with the best and this song slips right into that perfect pitch for me. The lyrics are filled with country sorrow and blues despair. The pain of losing a grip on life and feeling lost. The song starts this album perfectly and is there a more perfect sound on this earth than
a slide guitar(cowbell is the only other answer to this question)?
“Into your Own” follows up the brilliant lyrical content with the emphasis seemingly on the other sex and how they can settle on a less than happy(mostly abusive in one way or another) relationship. This story, however, can relate to every one of us. We have all accepted situations for all the wrong reasons and this track is giving you the reasons to break the past and present and create your own future. It also has one hell of a breakout solo.
Next Track “Walking Away” follows the same theme and it settles on an Eagles vibe. As much as you are in a quieter environment and toned down instruments you get some real grit which mainly comes from Kenny’s voice. There is a bit of pain in the first part of the song and then a feeling of elation and hope as it finishes. This one is a beautiful track.
“Get The Picture” picks up the pace as you hear the two guitars with crystal clarity and the tempo rises. The song itself follows more heartache, more personal stories? With songs like this you get a feel that the songwriting process may have been a cheaper option than therapy but as is often the case when songs come from the heart you end up with a cracking tune and a lesson for us all. The next song(s) comes in two parts, “Red Blood”. The songs are about the plight of Native Americans past and present. To say I loved this is a massive understatement. The “White Wind” of the first track is a race who stormed, stomped, raped and killed with no compassion. I have a real affinity with Native Americans as what happened to them had happened to the Scots many years
beforehand. The stories are very similar and to this day my favourite book is “Bury My Heart atWounded Knee”.
The power in both of these songs is easily grasped and I actually feel the rage boiling and
overflowing. The chorus on White Wind lets you feel the fear and the hatred. The guitar work is as fierce as the guns tearing down the red skinned people, it is as hectic as the fleeing race’s quest for survival and as cutting as the knifes that done the first scalpings (yes, it started with the military).
The second part tells the story looking back. “Crystal Ball” is a musical “if only we knew”. A sad and beautiful song that looks at where a proud but broken nation are today. How they fought adversary which goes on to this day. These two songs really moved me and I reckon had I been at this show, with a few beers down me a tear would have been rolling down my cheek.
“She Falls hard” slows it down but keeps the sadness going. Based on a mother’s plight and maybe another personal song, not just for a mother but for Kenny as a father. For some reason this felt like a Bryan Adams track. I cannot even nail down why it does but the solo on this makes the song. Thetone of the guitar is wondrous.
The next track is not a new one, “Off the Leash” was recorded last year as a tribute to Chris Cornell. I loved this song as soon as I heard it but this version is sublime. The acoustic works so well with it and the subject matter of depression. The Black Dog in the song is in reference to Winston Churchill who was said to suffer depression and even Bipolar disorder.
Irrespective of who said it this song was a brilliant way to highlight a plight that many know and never discuss. As I said I loved this song but the solo and the brilliant addition of lyrics from Audioslave’s “Like a Stone” made it even more special. This takes some beating, which theaudience reflect at its closing.
“Siren Song” has the vocals high and the guitars powerful. With just one instrument its story is portrayed to perfection, each stroke, each changed note is heard perfectly. The production for a live recording is gorgeous.
In final song I felt a double edged sword, a charlatan preacher conning people out of their money but with a backbone of faith. “Believer” is an old school blues number with its tongue firmly in its cheek.
Kenny has introduced a good bit of wit in this one and cleverly hidden a message in there as if he may be a bit worried about this song sheet being pulled out at the pearly gates. An agnostic rather than atheist approach as if to say can you not see the real message. This was a brilliant, upbeat
finish to the set. A cracking song that had me smiling and thinking all at once.
“American Songbook” is a brilliant album from start to finish. I loved its layers, its sadness and its hopeful messages. Kenny Dubman has solidified hisself as a brilliant songwriter and performer. A man who loves what he does and writes about what is close to his heart. You can tell the measure of a man in an album like this and Kenny has laid bare his soul for all to see.
Review Ritchie Birnie