Craig Kinsey Studies Hard on American Roots and Machines

Categories: Listen Up!

Photo courtesy of Zenhill Records
I don't really feel that it's right to criticize Craig Kinsey's American Roots and Machines as an album. It doesn't really feel like one aside from the fact that it is a CD that goes round and plays music. Instead, Kinsey has gone to great lengths to build a stage in your mind, and the record plays more like a film for the ears.

One of the keenest sentiments expressed on the album comes from "I'm Not Part of a Scene." It's a raging, hard rockabilly rant against norms and genres and his refusal to be a part of either. Honestly it's a bit juvenile, though eloquently expressed, and also completely sincere. Never let it be said that Kinsey is afraid to dance outside of his comfort zone.

Song styles on Machines run from pure Southern gospel to straight blues and even into the occasional rock piece. Kinsey even pulls out aspects of opera on the brief but fun "Puccini's Drunk Again," which frankly scans closer to Kurt Weill to these ears. But that might actually be the joke, and maybe I'm too thick to get it.

As the title suggests, most of what you hear is a microcosm of the late 1960s in pop music. It's almost like Kinsey has borrowed a phone booth to bring us a presentation for Bill and Ted's music history class, albeit only in one very narrow area.

This is both the record's strength and its weakness: what is said is pretty boring in most parts, but how it's said is amazing.

The music is huge. Just big all around. Even in the rare moments when it's just Kinsey singing by himself, he has a presence akin to the Ozzy in the quiet parts of "War Pigs." Mostly, though, songs are elaborate big-band affairs that enhance the comparison to a big-budget Broadway cast more than just musicians in the studio.

And Kinsey is a truly gifted lyricist. I could cite a hundred great lines, but I'll throw out my favorite from "American Chant":

Man spreads his dominion like ants take the dead

And created machines of goodness and dread

I meant what I said when I made an allusion to "War Pigs," but there's a downside to that too. No matter how brilliant and cutting his lyrics may be, Kinsey honestly isn't saying anything that hasn't been said before. Too often he draws from the worst of Dylan, when Bob was in the throes of rediscovering his faith or pumping out his most bitter breakup tunes. Though brokenheartedness forms a big theme on the album, it's a rusty, imprecise thing more akin to an acoustic version of '90s nu-metal ballads than the great poets at the birth of rock.

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"what is said is pretty boring in most parts": I'm with you there. The God/Big Picture/instructional side of the lyrics put me off. Kinda reaching too hard to say something big that really isn't. But the album is well done.


Honest review. Either way, I'm excited for the show!

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