Keith Kenny’s bio says it best when describing Keith at a show. “If the audience at a Keith Kenny show were to close their eyes for the performance, they would swear that there was a full band on stage. The audience, however, is too busy dancing to the one-man act’s layered guitar riffs, foot stomping percussion, blues harmonica, and emotionally charged lyrics to even think about looking away.”
The New Jersey native can emulate the sound of a full rock band with his percussive fingerstyle approach to the acoustic guitar and an array of effects pedals. Kenny has even customized a vintage red suitcase to use as a kick drum, which has appeared with him on stage for over a decade of live performances.
His debut appearances at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park paved the way for Kenny’s developing one-man-band show and led him into the national touring circuit and beyond. During his most recent “Big Red Suitcase Tour” (which we covered here), Kenny performed in over 50 U.S. cities from coast to coast and was chosen to headline a series of benefit concerts in SE Asia to raise awareness about unexploded bombs.
Kenny has also performed throughout parts of Europe and appears annually at the NAMM Convention in Anaheim, CA. In recent years, he has shared the stage with the likes of Keller Williams, Ween, The Dean Ween Group, Leon Russell, John Hammond Jr., New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and John Kadlecik (Further & Dark Star Orchestra). In January of 2016, the Eagles Of Death Metal released Kenny’s version of “I Love You All The Time” as a part of their Pay it Forward Campaign to raise money for the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks.
On his latest self-titled release, Kenny teamed up with three-time Grammy-winning producer Justin Guip (Levon Helm, Hot Tuna, Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams) to create a record that expanded on his signature one-man-band sound. The album is an eclectic mix of 10 original songs deeply rooted in guitar and banjo riffs, foot stomping percussion, and vocal melody hooks. With an influential voice that lies somewhere between Neil Young and Ben Bridwell, Kenny delivers clear and concise visions of dynamic musical deliverance. Combining a deep dive into tone, originality, and believability, he ushers the listener into his brand new living room of roots-riddled rock and roll.
Never going for the standard attack, he flies far from the 12-bar blues, three-chord rock, and Americana stereotype to land some place between a rock and a new place. The album illustrates a highly skilled writer who utilizes the same down-home approach in his music as he does with his day-to-day interactions with others. It’s a combination that will continue to see Kenny reach exciting new levels as he helps future fans “see the light” of his musical message.
Keith tells us about this latest recording himself: “I honestly believe that it covers the gamut of musical influences I’ve had throughout my life digging into rock, blues, folk & heavy metal. I think it’s the best work I have put forth to date.”
With that impression in mind, I came up with a few thoughts and recollections of the sounds that Keith Kenny continues to unleash on his fans and the world as a whole.
First up is a song called “Forgetting the Differences.” Kenny’s intricate playing style commands the listener’s attention as he gears up and gets ready to take off. Finger-picking melds with percussive delights underneath Keith’s pristine and clear vocal attack. Special guest Glen Patscha (Marianne Faithful, Levon Helm, Roger Waters, Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Ryan Adams, David Bromberg, Madeline Peyroux, Chocolate Genius, Lizz Wright, Elysian Fields, The Holmes Brothers, Linda Thompson, Loudon Wainwright, Laurie Anderson, Marc Cohn, Doyle Bramhall ll, Gustavo Cerati and many others) lends his keyboard expertise to the piece behind Kenny and his one-man-band mentality.
Keith blends back porch Tennessee-styled folk lyrics with a cunning arrangement style and playing panache. The song picks up tempo and urgency as it goes into the bridge, mixing Kenny’s guitar cacophony with Patscha’s keyboard magic and creating a solid, enjoyable song.
“Clothes in the Yard” is up next. Featuring Kenny’s rustic style of hillbilly meets John Prine, “Clothes in the Yard” is a laid back, punchy number that features banjo, guitars and solid, rock-steady drumming. Verses, bridges, and choruses are all robust and memorable for days. Kenny delivers some exceptional harmony slide and note work in the middle-eight which assists in the form of a sturdy hook. Kenny’s super smooth vocals come across on this record, and the production is top-notch goodness. Keith demonstrates once again that his songwriting skills are robust and readily agreeable to listeners of all types. If there’s one issue here, it’s that Keith isn’t a household name yet, but that’s coming soon.
Moving around the disc, “Lost Souls” is another song that caught my ear. Once again featuring Glen Patscha on keyboards, Keith kicks things off with his acoustic guitar work that reminds me of Pearl Jam and Mother Love Bone’s Stone Gossard. Once again Keith delivers pristine vocals over the top of guitar sorcery and solid keyboard delirium. Bridges build from succinct verses and head for choruses that beg to be heard again and again. Percussion moves underneath the guitar and keyboard goodness like a prowling snake, and Kenny takes no prisoners in his search for brave new sounding music here. I love the pick clicks against the guitar in the beginning and the end as well. A solid example of great compositional skills.
Another excellent song is “Teenage Dream.” This song features Dean Ween from Ween on lead guitar. Kenny winds up and delivers some outside the box punk-tinged rock goodness. And while the subject matter might be a bit dated and done before, Kenny goes out of his way to deliver exceptional musical product here. Touting the status of a teenaged dream, Kenny offers his lyrical content with believable accuracy. Dean Ween winds up and provides a tight middle-eight lead break here as well. Tone-wise, Ween sounds warm and edgy. His harmony lead work sings along with Kenny’s guitar skills, and the music is completely wild.
Another song featuring a member of Ween is “Wayside.” Ray Kubian (also from the band Electric Six) mans the drums here, and he does an exceptional job alongside Keith. Kenny delves into the subject matter of leaving a relationship gone wrong. Acoustic guitars clang and strum, picking out melodies in the bridge and setting up Kenny and his killer choruses. The bridge takes an interesting turn through Patscha’s keyboards, percussion, and acoustic instruments as Kenny builds into his final choruses. His round robin vocal rhythms add an enticing element to the overall song as well. Very Pink Floyd-like.
The disc has a total of 10 outstanding tunes on it, and while I didn’t have space to cover every single one of them, I’m certain you get the picture. Keith Kenny has delivered a solid and fascinating look through his continued journey of songwriting expertise, and the teaming of Dean Ween, Glen Patscha, Ray Kubian, and producer Justin Guip is a smart move that not only assisted in the quality of the delivery but also enhanced his overall style of compositional excellence.
Keith will be unveiling his self-titled record on July 21 at John & Peter’s in New Hope, PA. For more information on the record, the show and a look into the highly inspirational existence of Keith Kenny, head over to www.keithkenny.com.