Macdougal Blues

Kevn Kinney

Island Records, 1990

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


My first real taste of Kevn Kinney and his music was, surprisingly, not with his band drivin' n cryin'. Instead, it was during a set on a syndicated program of acoustic music. Kinney and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck sat in the studio and cranked through two or three songs off Kinney's debut solo effort Macdougal Blues.

I have since lost the CD which has those performances, but a few months ago, I happened to stumble upon a used copy of the album, and decided to pick it up and give it a nostalgic listen.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Kinney is not the greatest singer in the world - and I somehow think that he would be the first to support that claim. But his style of songwriting reminds me of a cross between R.E.M. (who, not surprisingly, would partially adapt this style for Out Of Time), the Grateful Dead and Matthew Sweet. It's an interesting combination of humor, bleakness, folk, country and rock - and, for the most part, it works.

The title track - God, listen to the stream-of-consciousness style that Kinney delivers his vocal lines in, and tell me that you don't hear Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do". (Crow should write a thank-you note to Kinney for this.) The song is a darkly humorous picture of trying to become part of a scene that, for the most part, doesn't exist in the manner that you thought it did.

Kinney's folksy side comes through in both the dark, depressing numbers ("Not Afraid To Die") and the light, airy mandolin-laden songs ("Last Song Of Maddie Hope"). Both of these particular songs are addictive - I found myself travelling in my car with nothing but this tape for about three days. Sue Kinney (his wife?) adds harmony vocals to three songs - and her vocals are what make "Iron Mountain" so calming and powerful.

This isn't to say that there aren't missteps on Macdougal Blues. "Gotta Get Out Of Here" is a big one - and this is the song that I hear future R.E.M. references in. (It's worth noting that Buck and bandmate Mike Mills do add their talents in certain areas of the album, including Buck's production. Also, "The House Above Tina's Grocery" is a track that could have been left off.

But for the most part, Macdougal Blues is an album that I don't think got the kind of attention and praise that it deserved when it came out in 1990. Kinney might not have gotten rich off of this album, but he hopefully realizes that this one album captures the spirit of alternative and folk almost perfectly - and it should be revered as a bruised classic.

Rating: B+

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