Two weeks into this project, I wrote about Kevin Devine’s masterful Split the Country, Split the Street . I have to say, I may revisit that one soon, because I really duffed it. That was the day that KevDev launched the Kickstarter for two albums and a tour and reached his goal of $50,000 within 12 hours. The project went on to raise $114,805 – which is huge for an independent artist with a fierce following.
I believe I duffed it for a couple of reasons: chief among them, I called it Split the Country, Split the Sheets, and tweeted that junk out only to have the man himself favorite it to my horror and embarrassment. But that’s a personal thing. More importantly, because that’s the only KD solo record I’ve been spinning the last month. I spent so much time swooning over the Kickstarter’s success that I failed to emphasize how enjoyable it is end-to-end.
In retrospect, it comes with my highest recommendation if only for “Cotton Crush and “Buried by the Buzz.”
If you need to know anything about the man, this picture sums it up:
The follow-up to that album, Put Your Ghost to Rest is a capable, more mellow release. Like Conor Oberst, Devine is a proficient writer. The sheer quantity of songs he’s written is overwhelming. Excuse the vaguely sexual metaphor, but instead of casting seeds and hoping for just one among them to rise high above the rest of the flower bed, each song is given care with a particular emphasis on the lyrics.
So what the music may lack in mind-blowing, revolutionary sonic advances, KD compensates with intelligent, insightful words. Alternating political (“The Burning City Smoking”) and deeply personal (“You’ll Only End Up Joining Them,” “Trouble”), he’s one of the writers I admire for their commitment to transparency and never being afraid to speak exactly what’s on his mind.
“Like Cursing Kids” will remind listeners of every guilty pleasure 90s rock band you’ve ever heard. I’m talking like down to the nitty gritty: Presidents of the United States of America and Polaris and Sponge. That age of greasy-haired, mismatched fashion and bespectacled former English teachers won’t ever die.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Devine’s writing is that it’s often steeped in melancholia. On “Me & My Friends,” he writes of having to cut out the negative influencers in our lives but still being upset about it:
We make a mess of what matters
Give our good grace away
We try to drink the clock backwards
And pretend like nothing’s changed
It’s healthy to connect with your sadness in such a positive way, though. I like to imagine that by writing these songs, not only is it cathartic for him, it has helped, and will continue to help fellow listeners.
He also writes a lot about Brooklyn, which is both encouraging and frightening – coming from someone who wants to be there, like, prior to immediately.
Closer “Heaven Bound and Glory Be” is a slow speed car crash, a tale written that can’t be avoided but one that surmises everything he stands for: tremendous, reality-based yarns backed by understated guitar. The kind of guy who will either make other artists want to pick up their guitar and get to work, or just quit altogether.
Start with Split the Country, then make your way to this album.
From Put Your Ghost to Rest, this is “The Burning City Smoking” –
Standout tracks: “Just Stay” and “Like Cursing Kids”
Weakest track: If you’re not into mid-tempo acoustic guitar, look elsewhere.
RIYL: Conor Oberst, Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley. I don’t want to pigeonhole him into that deep sadness genre, but some of this album is so down it’s difficult to stomach.