By Oliver Arditi
Things have changed a great deal in recent years, around the way that music is made and distributed, but many artists are sticking with with the old school approaches. Album, singles, tour, all of that malarkey. Equally, many artists are trying other methods: digital only releases, pay-what-you want, releasing tunes individually as online videos, massive releases many times longer than traditional album format, or making EPs the primary focus, which is what Drivin’ ’n’ Cryin’s Kevn Kinney has elected to do recently. The way he tells it, when his wife suggested he record a song she’d heard, which happened to be the last song on his latest album, he concluded that people don’t usually listen all of the way through a full length release, and decided to look into a shorter format. Songs From The Psychedelic Time Clock is the third in a projected series of four EPs to be released over a twelve-month period, on the assumption that not only will listeners have the stamina to listen to them all the way through, but that it enables a more direct and immediate communication with the audience. This way, the music gets to the listener much closer to its moment of conception, and very likely closer to its original creative conceit, since the band will not be spending years agonising over every detail of the arrangement and the mix. It’s also an opportunity to explore a range of stylistic terrain, to present a selection of quite sharply delineated creative practices that would probably jar if they were shoehorned into a single release. The first EP in the sequence, Songs From The Laundromat, gives little away with its title, but the second, Songs About Cars, Space and The Ramones, is presumably quite different in sound to this one, which is not just psychedelic, but a very precise evocation of a particular late 1960s sound.
Drivin’ ’n’ Cryin’ are what used to be called a territory band, an outfit with a strong profile and a loyal following in their own neck of the woods, but limited wider recognition. They toured (and collaborated) with fellow Georgians R.E.M. and had some brushes with national acclaim in the US, their fourth album Fly Me Courageous cracking the Billboard 100 in 1991, and three singles from it attaining the upper reaches of some rock charts; as far as I can work out they never promoted themselves outside of America, and for the majority of their career they have been below most people’s radar. Which bodes well, as far as I’m concerned, since widespread recognition seems to have ruined far more artists than it has assisted. Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Kevn Kinney has been plugging away at it for a long time (getting on for thirty years); it’s obviously what he loves doing, and his continued enthusiasm is in evidence on Songs From The Psychedelic Time Clock.
Country music and the blues had a long and tempestuous marriage in the United States, breeding to produce rock ’n’ roll and then going their separate ways with a lot of each other’s belongings; they collided again in the late 1960s, producing the fusion known as country rock, which worked so well, and sounded so natural, that it basically ousted rock ’n’ roll as the mainstream of rock music. This is what much music of the psychedelic era is at heart, however many sitars and floaty vocal harmonies it may be dressed up in, and it’s the tradition on which most of Songs From The Psychedelic Time Clock draws. 1960s furniture abounds: there are classic fuzztones, jangling twelve-strings, perfectly judged amplifier settings, electric sitar, all of that jazz. It’s not over the top, and the production sounds very convincing, as though it was recorded on four- or eight-track tape (which it may have been for all I know). The vocal melodies have all the whimsy and modalism you’d expect from the era Drivin’ ’n’ Cryin’ are setting out to evoke. The arrangements have just enough elaboration to make them sound authentic, like the trumpet on ‘Upside Down Round And Round’, which blends perfectly into the vocal harmony, without over-egging the pudding. It’s easy, with the benefit of modern technology, to make recordings that would have required astronomical budgets back in the day, but Drivin’ ’n’ Cryin’ resist the temptation, and the record sounds like something that might have been a commercial proposition in 1967. The final two tracks, ‘In The Sound Room’, and, ironically, ‘The Psychedelic Time Clock’, could be given a more modern sounding production, and their riffs would read happily as classic hard rock, but there was plenty of material around like that in the sixties too, and they don’t sound out of place; they just sound a bit more garage than the rest of the release.
The whole thing is extremely convincing. It’s a lot of fun to listen to, and you’d honestly have to be a real expert to prick up your ears and say ‘hold on, this wasn’t made in the sixties’. In fact, the band have embraced a modern approach to format to present some decidedly traditional music; these recordings are so respectful of the tradition that, although it’s all original material, Songs From The Psychedelic Time Clock comes off sounding almost like repertory music. It’s the sound of some musicians enjoying the stylistic materials that they love, without much of an agenda to do anything more than to make it sound as right as possible; which is rather like the early British rhythm and blues bands that were a strong influence on this kind of music the first time around. There is definitely no shortage of precedents for this kind of approach, and there’s plenty of listening pleasure in the music, if it’s your sort of thing, but at the same time you might think there would be no very compelling argument for listening to this EP, rather than some of the old records that inspired it. Except of course that if you’re a fan of psychedelic music, you’ve probably mined out those old seams, and Drivin’ ’n’ Cryin’, despite having been around for a few decades, and despite the fact that they’re performing music in a style that was current before they came of age, bring a freshness and enthusiasm to the project that makes it sound newly minted. In fact, they sound as though they’re in their early twenties, full of spunk and acid, blazing a trail into undiscovered stylistic territory, which is quite a trick to pull off. The immediacy of the EP format, and the quick turn around they’ve imposed on themselves by releasing four of the things in a year, probably have a good deal to do with their success in blowing the dust off these well-worn musical materials. There’s not a huge amount left to say in this area, but Kevn Kinney and company have the good sense to get in and out in twenty minutes; just enough time to remind us why the era they’re revisiting was so influential, and to convince us that if they’d been playing at the time, they’d have been at the forefront.
New! Records 2013, CD EP, 21m 58s, $5