with opener Mark Utley (Magnolia Mountain)
May 31, 2013
Southgate House Revival, 111 E 6th St, Newport, KY
doors 8 pm, show 9 pm, 18+, $8 adv, $10 dos
Kenny Roby’s life in music has been an intellectual and spiritual quest. The Raleigh, NC-based singer/songwriter has explored the history of music and its various forms with a musicologist’s zeal, absorbing it all into his art. Simultaneously, he has taken a long hard look in the mirror through the writing process, allowing him to discover and reflect back a piece of himself through his songs. Charting the continuum of that journey takes us to Roby’s critically acclaimed 2013 release, Memories & Birds, an ambitious vision of a Southern past littered with provocative characters and the dark, foreboding places they inhabit. The recording, his first in over six years, is filled with surprising twists and turns, shadowy corners and broken dreams. The narrative thread running throughout this complex eight-song cycle evokes the stark imagery and themes of Faulkner, O’Connor, Percy and McCarthy, as it makes clear the musical lineage from which he emerges: Cohen, Van Zandt, Newman and the like. These are song-stories of loss, isolation, desire, rejection, resignation, despair, aging and anxiety. And who better to sing them than Roby? He briefly lived the dream as part of the seminal alt-country/indie rock band 6 String Drag in the ’90s. The quartet was signed and produced by Steve Earle, wined and dined by the major label machine and heralded alongside fellow next-big-thing North Carolinians’ Whiskeytown and The Backsliders. Just as quickly, it disappeared when hard living, the arrival of children and the strain of the music business caused the band to dissolve. It’s here, however, where the proverbial wheat is separated from the chaff. Proving himself the former, Roby has persevered, releasing three exquisite solo albums. Circa 2007, he went on a brief hiatus to further hone his craft, raise a family and bide his time. While Memories & Birds could be called a comeback, existentially speaking, it’s a debut. Wiser for the time and no longer chasing the cliche of success, Kenny Roby returns, purely, the poet, the songwriter, the musician and the artist that he’s always been and will always be.