Album Reviews

Robert Kidney


Artist:     Robert Kidney

Album:     Jackleg

Label:     Exit Stencil

Release Date:     04/15/2016


Growing up in Northeast Ohio, Robert Kidney performed in schools and churches. While watching a friend strum guitar, Kidney realized he yearned to do the same. “The sound came across and hit me in the middle of the chest,” he recalls. “I knew immediately that learning how to play guitar was what I wanted.” He stuck with it, and went on to lead the avant-garde group the Numbers Band. Later, he set out as a solo folkie opening for Bruce Springsteen, Hound Dog Taylor and Tom Waits. His songs have been covered and recorded by Jack Bruce (Cream) and Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols).

Recorded live at Studio G in Brooklyn, NY, Robert Kidney’s latest release Jackleg is an austere affair, stripped bare, down to the bone. Just a man in a room with his voice and his guitar. Ten tunes shimmer and brood somewhere between folk and blues, delivered in Kidney’s signature voice, at once gentle and ominous.

“Big Paradise” perches on a spare riff like a crow on an old dead tree. Kidney croons dark, cryptic poetry. “There’s a dog off his collar, bent down. No man’ll catch him. Neither death nor the devil. So fast, so free. Straight on the line.”

“Wolf” opens with bottleneck riffs that ricochet off of reverb. The stark nakedness of these recordings captures a raw intimacy. You can hear him shift in his chair as he declares, “I know, I was a man made of shadow.”

Atonal chord choices and urgent enunciation distinguish Kidney’s work from what we typically think of as blues or folk, more a precursor to punk, not rock ‘n’ roll. Within the same verse, he can bellow like Muddy Waters and deadpan like Lou Reed.

What begins as a spoken word piece descends into dissonance in “Back To Disaster.” Kidney dryly delivers poetic verse: “Stand flat footed, caught, ready. My eyes are clear, and my hands are steady. I got the blood and the fire to make the night burn blue. And if love don’t make it, lust will surely do.”

“Red Stick” cleverly plays with the words bayou and Baton Rouge. “I’m burning out, by you. I’m gonna fade. It’s a dead-man’s run. And at the end there’s a coffin, and then you’re done. If there’s a good time somewhere, I’ll be having one. I’m going to Red Stick.” There’s always a dark ending to Kidney’s tales, and here he finishes with the refrain “I’ll put you in a sack, throw you over my back, down the track. Clickety-clack.”

While well steeped in American roots, Robert Kidney’s music defies easy description and rewards close listening. The structural simplicity of his songs belies a substantial storyteller who spins dark yarns of passion, mystery and violence. From his early days with the Numbers Band to his recent solo work, Kidney is a singular artist dedicated first and foremost to his craft. “The focus of my life is on music itself, not on its value as a commodity,” he says.

Jackleg is a midnight road trip through the underbelly of the American psyche. Listen close, you’ll hear the whisper of a poet with a knife.

-Mike Cobb


Watch Robert Kidney’s video for “Rosalee” HERE

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