For me, it is always a bitter-sweet thing to discover a musician I love who has been at it for decades with more records than I can count on one hand. On the one hand, I am happy to have more enriching music in my life and look forward to delving into their catalog. On the other, I can’t help feeling some sense of loss for having not been listening for the last ten plus years. Some examples:
- A work colleague turned me onto Chris Smither driving to a department retreat.
- Darrin Bradbury is responsible for exposing me to both Steve Poltz, who randomly got snowed-in in Nashville and ended up opening for Darrin, and David Dondero, who played an intensely intimate set at the OG Basement.
- Just three months ago I was soliciting suggestions for entire albums to listen to on my drive back to Houston from the Americana Festival and Anna Joy Harris turned me on to Dar Williams.
I most recently experienced this phenomenon when Nick Loss-Eaton strongly suggested I go to the Mucky Duck to see Kevin Gordon. It is no exaggeration to say that I was blown away. Kevin is a road-weathered troubadour in the truest sense of the word. His songs have a very literary quality with vivid imagery. It’s no surprise that he holds a Master’s in poetry from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Hell, he recited a poem from memory mid-set!
He’s from West Monroe, Louisiana and his songs are definitely infused with the soul and mystery of the deep south. He doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable truths of racism and segregation and captures the essence of these and other major social issues with specific, relatable examples that most of us have encountered in some capacity. He started writing songs and playing guitar at seventeen and had a garage punk band. His first album was released in 1993 (on cassette). He just released his seventh full-length album, Tilt & Shine, in July.
I’m a big fan of storytelling in music. This often ends up with a bit of rambling over three chords, which I am fine with; but Kevin’s songs were simultaneously tight short stories while still being very much songs as well.
Kevin was accompanied by a rhythm section consisting of Ron Eoff on bass and Joshua Hunt on drums. To say this trio was tight would be an understatement. You know how there’s usually one member of most bands that is disproportionately into what they are doing? The keyboard player who is only playing sustained chords for a measure at a time, but lunges forward with his entire frame every time the chord changes. That tambourine player that looks like she belong under a gospel revival tent.
Ron was extremely animated. Bouncing around the stage, dancing and putting his entire body into it. The difference between his performance and what I mentioned above is his frenetic motions were in utter harmony with the tasty grooves he was laying down. He has performed vocals and/or bass for Levon Helm, Cate Bros., Patrick Sweany, and The Band. I got a chance to chat with him after the show, and he’s everything you hope for in a gun-slinging, highly technically-competent musician: incredibly humble and grateful that he has been able to make his living doing what he loves for the last forty plus years.
Joshua, on the other hand, was a study in restraint. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Percussion Performance from Western Kentucky University and a Master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a Nashville Jazz Workshop faculty member. He is one of the most in-demand jazz drummers in Nashville touring with Alison Krauss and Union Station and he is a member of the Jerry Douglas band. I don’t think his head moved once, or that his neutral, serene expression ever changed. But he was laying down a great groove, equally comfortable and competent with a diverse array of patterns and beats.
The performance was intimate and—I don’t say this often—magical. The show was well-attended and save the appropriate-timed chuckle to a quip either in song or the banter between them, the room was completely silent with everyone on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what was coming next.
For me, the highlight of the evening was an autobiographical tune called “Colfax.” Not many performers can hold the attention of a crowd for a song lasting over ten minutes, but I could have listened to an expanded, twenty-minute version of this one.
I have since delved deeper into Kevin’s work and eagerly await my next opportunity to see him perform live. If you ever have the chance to do so, I highly recommend seizing it.