Shapeshifting return of Drivin n Cryin mainstay.
Kevin Kinney, head honcho of long-lived (1985 and still going), left-of-the-dial country-folk-southern-indie rock stalwarts Drivin n Cryin is back with a new solo album, his 11th – or it could be 8th, or perhaps 12th, depending on your source. ‘Think About It’ is his first LP for over a decade and, for those who care about such things, sees him back on vinyl at last. In making the record Kinney notes the looming inspirational presence of LA scenester and “iconic oddball” Colonel Bruce Hampton, who’s chaotic improvisational DNA appears to be all over this LP.
Kinney’s close and long-standing friendship with Col. Bruce underpins a sense of autobiographical representation running throughout the record, something Kinney himself hints at in interviews to promote the record. Given this, perhaps the best hook for the LP is provided by the track ‘ShapeShifterGrifter’. This piece, which appears to have been constructed with the working title ‘Piano Jam’, begins (like a number of other tracks on the album) with a cool and slinky bass riff. This is joined by shuffling drums to create an almost bebop rhythm, while a simple piano motif is added and twisted as the song progresses to underscore the spoken word poem-ish thing that Kinney recites over the top. Sounding like a beat generation Jim White you almost expect him to exclaim “mcvouty o’roonie” as the song comes to an end.
It’s a neat homage to the Colonel but lines like “I’ll be wearing a seersucker space suit, listening to the radio through my eye” sound like a college radio producer’s idea of psychedelic beat poetry and Kinney doesn’t sound totally at home with the performance either. Having to recite extra carefully to get the words out / in properly. He invokes Howlin’ Wolf and Sun Ra then “makes a mental note – steal the bass player”, which he might well have done given the preponderance of captivating bass over many of the earlier tracks on the album. He could be referring to his putting together the band for this recording or to seeing Colonel Bruce’s Jazz band play live, you’re never quite sure, a state the Kinney seems happy to encourage throughout the 38 minute listening experience.
Without reference to any of its content, the title ‘ShapeShifterGrifter’ alone reflects the fleeting, freewheeling nature of the record as it skips from a kind of loungy atmospheric almost desert vibe (‘Think About It’ and ‘Catching Up To Myself’) through some more straightforwardly accessible Americana laced tracks like the lovely ‘Wishes’ and the Lambchop infused ‘Half Mast’ to, best of all. the Go Betweens / Jethro Tull mash-up that is ‘Down in the City’.
The final stretches of the record are inhabited by the more jangly Paisley nuances of ‘Another Scarlet Butterfly’ and the impossibly catchy ‘Murmur’ era REM-isms of ‘Stop Look Listen Think’. This last reference point should not come as a surprise given that the record was recorded in Athens Georgia and that both Bill Berry and Peter Buck turn up at regular intervals throughout. In addition to their heavy-hitting presence there are turns from Brad Morgan (Drive-ByTruckers) Laur Joamets (Drivin N Cryin, Midland, Sturgill Simpson) together with Kevin Scott and Darren Stanley from the Colonel’s own band. Production is courtesy of the highly regarded David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, Lee Bains, Son Volt).
The ‘shapeshifting’ atmosphere of ‘Think About It’ is something that Kinney wanted to invoke, as he took a different approach to the record, aiming for something “a little more out there” by “having all these different styles of musicians play”. This approach, along with a pandemic hangover that summoned a sense of being and listening alone, creates a beguiling if slightly uneasy listen. There are plenty of missteps and misfires on ‘Think About It’ (the final two-minute recitation of ‘Never The Twain Shall Meet’ prime amongst them) but also some moments of tender beauty and even carousing joy that overcome the aesthetic promiscuity of the LP as a whole. It can be an enticing ride as it lurches from one style to another but overall it’s impossible to shake the sense that Kinney is engaging in just a little of the musical flim-flam of which his old pal Colonel Bruce would have fully approved of.