After traipsing around with folk music's torch for the past few years, Kevn Kinney (Drivin' 'n' Cryin') plugs back in for a rollicking tonic to the fear machine roaring outside our windows. The Sun Tangled Angel Revival (STAR) is a rock revival meeting that periodically gives way to blue sky softness. Many tracks possess the heart-tugging directness of early Jayhawks, simple and true sentiments couched in Beatlesy settings.

"This Train Don't Stop at the Millworks Anymore" is a pedal steel dappled ode to the disappearing American manufacturing base. "In The Land of Plenty" reveals Kinney as Woody Guthrie's weirder country cousin who cries out "Shiva Las Vegas!" to bring down that multi-armed deity upon Sin City, his white bull and trident tearing up the Strip with a vengeance. "Madman Blues" finds the band at their lyrically and musically most potent, screaming organ driving a Black Sabbath intensity. "Fly Your Flag High" lifts up real hope, propelled onward by an organ swell akin to Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." It is but one of many echoes of his Bob-ness in STAR, and always they do their ancestor proud. Besides Kinney on vocals and guitars there are bassist Bryan Howard (Slackdaddy), drummer Dave V. Johnson (Kathleen Turner Overdrive) and cult guitarist Gibb Droll.

Tying it all together is David Barbe's intuitive production. As he's already demonstrated on the past two Drive-By Truckers releases, this former Sugar bassist may have some of Tom Dowd's instincts for capturing bands at their best. With Barbe behind the boards, Kinney sounds more engaged, more alive than ever. His distinctive vocals chase down all those emotions waiting just at the edge of the human tongue. Cracked and raw as a callous at times, it's also a supremely honest and affecting sound. That he happens to be singing against ignorance and cruelty AND winning the battle makes it all the more impressive. As Bruce Cockburn once sang, you gotta kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight, and Kevn has a broad boot ready for the job. Without a doubt, STAR is Kinney's best work in recent memory and a fine statement of purpose for a band with tremendous promise.

Dennis Cook
JamBase | California
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[Published on: 12/5/04]

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