Kevin Gordon: Gloryland

It doesn't matter if what Gordon sings is true or not, he makes us believe it to be true.

Kevin Gordon


Label: Crowville Media
US Release Date: 2012-02-14
UK Release Date: Import

For several years, the highlight of any Kevin Gordon show would occur when he performed “Colfax.” This self-penned tune about playing trumpet in the high school marching band under the tutelage of a black-skinned man in the South when the Ku Klux Klan pleasantly joins the spectators brims with sexual and racial tensions. Gordon tackles the issues of youth, small town life, and the promise of a better future with telling details that convincingly convey the time and place of past events as if they really happened to him. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t – it doesn’t really matter. He makes us believe it to be true.

Gordon provides impressive descriptions and examples to illustrate his case: from the pseudo-juvenile delinquent behaviour of having a classmate lock himself in the teacher’s office and blast Ted Nugent’s “Wang Tang Sweet Poontang” over the school’s sound system to the seductive way his clarinet playing classmate appeared to his eyes (“Thirteen going on 35 / Sexy in a hard way like a first cigarette / Or bourbon spilled on a bare thigh”). But this is a song, not just a story. Gordon has played this composition live with minimal accompaniment and with larger combos. He’s tested it for years (it’s been more than seven years since his last recording), and, now that he has committed the song to disc, he understands how to complement every minute of this more than seven-minute tale. He adds a strumming banjo, a throbbing bass, a wailing slide, an electric guitar riff, and so on, during appropriate places, so that the song sounds as polished as a diamond and just as cutting. He also knows how to end the piece, with a black female gospel choir joining him in singing inspiring words about looking “straight ahead” instead of looking back. The companion piece to “Colfax“, “Step in Time” sounds like one of those marching songs performed while coming back from a funeral in New Orleans. The larger point is to celebrate the present and acknowledge the reality of the past in which Gordon lived.

“Colfax/Step in Time” clocks in at more than 10 minutes in length and forms the centerpiece of Gloryland. Several of the other songs tell literate tales of observation about growing up and dealing with the evils of the world. Critics have compared Gordon, an Iowa Writers Workshop graduate, with that of the school’s most renowned student, Raymond Carver. They share an affinity for terse and gritty descriptions, but Gordon is a musician. His playing (as well as the artistry of those instrumentalists he has assembled around him) really knows how to create a groove and take the weight off the stories. Gordon’s is more comparable to the late, great Harry Chapin, who made you believe he was the protagonists of his songs even as the music took over from the lyrics at key moments to express emotions and spiritual feelings for which words seemed inadequate. Sure, their lyrics are important, but, in combination with the music, something more is expressed.

So on tracks such as “Trying to Get to Memphis” and “Side of the Road”, one feels the Southern landscape through the aural cues as much as the visuals one Gordon described. Gordon may have a felicity for language, but he also likes to rock. That’s what makes all 11 cuts move like a car speeding down the road to nowhere. You don’t know where he’s taking you, possibly even as far as the “Gloryland” of the title track. But you know Gordon’s always taking you somewhere, and the journey will always be more important than the destination.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.