Kevin Gordon's voice is made from dust and red clay. And the songs on the Louisiana-born performer's sweeping new album Gloryland are chiseled from the bedrock of life the honest facts of rambling, needing, loving, soul-searching and experience.
"I like the unfinished ending the story that just continues when the song's over," says Gordon. "Life never sums itself up in three-and-a-half minutes, and a good song doesn't need to do that either. But it should tell a story."
All 11 numbers on Gloryland have an elemental feel proof that Gordon's working at the peak of the songwriter's craft. His characters, from the school kid narrating the coming-of-age yarn "Colfax/Step in Time" to the panhandler in "Trying To Get To Memphis" to the folk artist Pecolia Warner, the subject of his lovely duet with fellow Americana singer-songwriter Sarah Siskind, "Pecolia's Star," have a depth and personality that brings Gordon's songs of the South into sharp focus, even if their essential questions about the mysteries of faith, truth and humanity hang in the air as he moves on to the next tale.
It's not just Gordon's poetic vision and the raw character etched in his sinewy voice that gives his fifth studio album such remarkable substance. He and producer/multi-instrumentalist Joe McMahan have created a fresh, dynamic sonic approach for Gloryland that's equally deep.
McMahan built a low-end foundation around the gutty, gritty dialog that Gordon maintains with his vintage electric Gibson hollow body guitar that's anchored by two full drums kits and buoyed by careful mixing. That keeps the spotlight focused keenly on Gordon's spare, evocative singing and playing, and gives the songs an uncluttered feel that contributes to their sense of place.
"I was skeptical at first, but as the album began to take shape that approach really allowed me to let the songs take their course," Gordon says. "This time around I concentrated on narrative more, whereas on the last studio album, (2005's O Come Look at the Burning), it was more about vibe and capturing the essence of something. For Gloryland, I wanted the stories to be literal. And if I can write a song that tells a literal, linear story and I can still feel myself getting emotional over what I'm writing about, then I know I'm getting somewhere."
Gordon's own narrative begins in Monroe, Louisiana, where he "grew up the son of well-intentioned, but backsliding parents. I was a very confused young man."
Like many other children of the 1970s who fit that description, Gordon wrote poetry and discovered skate-boarding and punk rock despite being weaned on the region's early rock, blues, honky-tonk and rockabilly sounds. He sang in a high school band whose repertoire was entirely Ramones and Sex Pistols covers. But his own fusion of words and music ignited after a girlfriend's parents gave him a guitar and he discovered the more literate and worldly compositions of the influential Los Angeles roots- punk outfit X.
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