From Drivin N Cryin’s inception, Kevin Kinney has worn the hang-dog outsider mantle of a guy who has spent way more time on the perimeters of love than in the middle of it. Ten years later he’s still counting time out there: still scarred, still searching. And still writing songs about it.
Dropped by DGC after the sprawling and ambitious (and damn good) Wrapped In Sky, the band retreated to their home turf of Atlanta and inked a deal with local indie Ichiban for the stripped-back-down sound of this self-titled release. And it finds the band doing what they so often do — erratically, but many times brilliantly, mixing full-on rock bombast with tempered but amped-up folk.
The upsides are and always have been Kinney’s quieter, more painful moments. He can make you feel the stinging melancholia of “Around The Long Way” (“All dressed up with nowhere to fall/All confused and no one to call” and “I’m tangled up in coffee and I’m tangled up in you”) and express the struggle of keeping a relationship together in “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” (“I’ve been sitting up all night long/Ever since the early morning when you called/I can’t describe this idle haze and rage/I just wish I’d see you walk through that door again”). Yeah, it can get messy, but it’s beautifully earnest, honest moments in time.
Elsewhere, the sublime “Passing Through” shares the reaching scope of Wrapped, approaching mini-epic status as its tale of questioning lovers is embellished with strings and a spoken narrative from Michelle Malone. A mandolin and slide-fueled acoustic jam propels “I’ve Got A Message”, which voices the plight of all those other everyday folk for whom a rise in the Dow Jones means absolutely nothing. The lone cover, a rippin’ take on John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, eschews novelty for reverence.
But for every “Around The Way”, there’s a “Let Lenny B.”, or “Drivin N Cryin”, or “Beneath The Undertow” — songs in which lyric and melody become obscured by excessively heavy riffage, a problem with some of the band’s previous releases on Island as well. Somewhere along the way, Drivin N Cryin’s harder-edged songs veered from sharp guitar burn to lumbering ’70s rawk. I miss the burn.