I’m a sucker for the storyteller.
Sure, the swinging hooks and catchy riffs are great, but for all the various attributes that make an artist or band stand out, the bard card is generally what lures me into month-long catalog benders.
After a few listens to Kenny Roby’s latest album, I found myself in dire need of a chat with my sponsor, as what could be described as an eerie eight-track Southern novel had me burning candles at both ends. While no lyrics are specifically dated on the album, the characters and stories feel vintage — and yet, at the same time, modernly identifiable with the universal truths of a human experience marked by beautiful dreams and painful nightmares.
While the project is a step different from the Roby’s best-known work as a frontman for acclaimed ’90s alt-country/indie rock band 6 String Drag, it still flows like spring wine. At times, it has the feel of a cloudy 90-proof hangover. Would you expect anything less of the the Raleigh, N.C.-based artist who has been heralded by the likes of Ryan Adams, Tim Easton and Citizen Cope as one of the best songwriters around?
The opening track, also the album’s namesake, is a weighty invitation that sets the tone for a journey of sounds and tales that reside on the same plane as the works of Elvis Costello or Leonard Cohen. The most immediate aspect of “Memories and Birds” is the Roby’s croon, a feature that highlights the duration of the album. A thumping horn section with shades of ’60s Motown pushes the pace of the following track, “The Monster,” before Roby drenches you in strings and heartache with the coming-of-age tale “The Craziest Kid Around.”
The album’s longest track, an eight-minute opus titled “Colorado,” follows like a rumbling low heartbeat — documenting a growing darkness inside the aging kid: “I ain’t the worst man you’ve ever known, but I’d be willing to make a bet that every devil here ain’t born full grown — and we ain’t met all of ‘em yet.”
“Tired of Being in Love” boasts sultry horns and Roby’s powerhouse crooning, in poppy tale of love lost. The songwriter shows the amazing control of his voice in the brilliant track “A Short Mile,” before ending with the haunting “Me and My Monkey” and a gentle farewell in “Our Fading Fighter.”
Complimented by plush strings and background vocals, Roby takes you along on an introspective spiritual journey with Memories and Birds. However, those looking for just sunshine and rainbows need not apply for the ticket to this ride.
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