I first heard Kieran Kane when he was with the O’Kanes, a short lived but rewarding group that spawned hits like “Daddies Need to Grow Up Too” and “One True Love”. A couple of years later I heard of Kevin Welch when he seemed to be in the good graces of Nashville’s utterly finicky Music Row. His hit “Something ‘Bout You”, from his Western Beat album, as well as “Til I See You Again”, had him as the next big deal. But Welch and Kane are in it for the long haul, making some of their finest music in recent albums, including a live release recorded Down Under. Now, with this album, the singer-songwriters and musical craftsman team up again to offer up a dozen songs that would outshine even the best Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings have to give. Beginning with the mountain-esque haunt on the title track, Kane’s deeper timbre is countered by the higher drawl of Welch (Kevin, not Gillian!). The instrumentation draws you in and you’re hooked less than a minute in. “You can’t save everybody / No word no word no praise / You can’t save everybody / Everybody don’t wanna be saved”, they sing on the slow but enjoyable, swaying tune.
It’s a great start and sets the mood for this album—two singers who have plied their craft quite well and are more at ease sitting in wooden chairs across from each other churning out gems. “Dark Eyed Gal” has Welch taking lead as Fat Waller comes in with his button accordion. Although it’s drawn out a tad longer, the tempo is just the way it should be in a Townes Van Zandt-like manner. Kane and Welch sound like they have been together forever, playing into each other’s strengths while the toe-tapping Appalachian-meets-bluegrass hue greets “Hillybilly Blue”. Here Kane speaks the lyrics more than sings them, but the accompanying instruments are the song’s biggest asset.
Both songwriters use the blues format sometimes with a distinctive traditional Americana slant, particularly as Welch controls the quite bouncy “Jersey Devil” as he’s helped out on harmonies by guest vocalist Claudia Scott. It’s the sort of song that could go on for perhaps twice its length without losing any steam, just a rolling and ambling tempo that is still rather jaunty. The lone mediocre tune thus far is the ordinary “Somewhere in the Middle” with a slight Tex-Mex feeling that is thankfully rather short. But this direction is a brief change as it’s back to the strong songwriting and delivery, with Welch giving a great performance on “Flycatcher Jack and the Whippoorwill’s Song”, resembling the darker moments of Steve Earle’s “Billy Austin” or “Over Yonder” as well as Springsteen’s sparser Nebraska or The Ghost Of Tom Joad. This is followed up by “Callin’ Me”, a spiritual tune that is mindful of Hank Williams, although without much of the honky tonky. Here, Fats Kaplin weaves a lot of magic around Kane’s lead and Welch’s support during the chorus.
Although there are many highlights, perhaps “the” one is Welch’s self-penned “Till I’m Too Old to Die Young”, which was a hit for the likes of Moe Bandy in the late ‘80s. The song, which talks about literally holding on for dear life, is somber and yet somehow quite hopeful given the topic. “I pray that I won’t feel the chill until I’m too old to die young”, Welch sings as he and Kane just strum a few comfortable folk chords. Ending the song with just his voice is the sonic icing on a very rich cake that might leave a lump in your throat.
The homestretch isn’t quite as outstanding but the creeping “Everybody’s Working for the Man Again . . . ” takes dead aim on the big department stores squashing the little independent Mom-and-Pop shops and the much bigger picture. “We had a radio station they played our music they way they all liked it round here / Then a big corporation with a whole lot of money told our jockeys what we wanted to hear”, Welch sings. Ending with “A Prayer Like Any Other”, this album shows you that there’s still great songwriters out there. It’s just your job to look a little bit harder. So get going!