Myles Kennedy gets personal with his solo album 'Year of the Tiger'By Lisa Martineau
NewHampshire.com March 08. 2018 6:44AM
In 2014, the last time we spoke with one of the hardest working front men in rock and roll, Myles Kennedy, he was about to head out on yet another tour with his band Alter Bridge and had been touring for two years with Slash. We learned that he had a solo record on the table that had been done for years, sans vocals. He promised a stripped down record that sounded more like his older work with the Mayfield Four.
Thing is, he tossed it. Starting over with a fresh batch of ideas, Kennedy dove deep into an entirely new album. That album, Year of the Tiger," comes out tomorrow.
Going the singer/songwriter route is a risk, but when the musical story is personal - think Adele - the listener can hear it in the vocals, which connects with the listener. Myles has a voice that is captivating precisely for that reason. It's emotional and vulnerable but also very distinct. He pulls you into the song with a soulful depth of melody that forces you to feel.
Or, as a friend of mine said, "break out the tissues."
He's known for beautiful ballads. But he's also known to stretch, shrieking out the raspiest rock and roll. He's careful not to damage his voice but he's adaptable. He so versatile it's ridiculous. And that is demonstrated on this album, Year of the Tiger.
The choice to put the title track, "Year of the Tiger" up as the first single came as a surprise, as there are several other songs here that could have hooked a larger audience of music lovers. Instead, the album rides between the lines, while Myles plays with multiple genres, spilling his emotions onto the music and lyrics that tell the story of his life, letting listeners fall into line.
To write the record, Myles began "writing like a madman," as he described it. The music pulled him into a clear direction. "I could see what it was telling me, as far as what story needed to be put to that music," he says. "I realized it was time to jump head-first into something I’ve been putting off for my whole life as a writer."
Turns out he'd been avoiding the story of the death of his father, a member of the Christian Science Church, whose founder Mary Baker Eddy, was born in New Hampshire. Because of his beliefs he did not seek medical attention when he was sick. He died from appendicitis when Myles was just four years old. "This was something I had wanted to dive into throughout my career," Kennedy continues. "It just took decades to muster up the courage. Beneath the surface, the wounds were pretty raw, but it just had to be done."
“I’ve always wanted to make record like this, that embodies a certain part of me which hasn’t been documented,” he says. The entire record does just that, bleeding his lyrics about love and loss, anger and even letting go. In the song "Nothing But a Name" Myles expresses how he feels about the fact that he never really knew his father. He sings, "I still miss you now. Your conviction, your belief, how could you choose that over me?" It's heavy.
Although Myles sings in a lower register for most of this record, there are at least three songs ("Nothing But a Name," "Blind Faith," and The "Great Beyond") that could have easily been on an Alter Bridge record if they were louder and heavier, with more guitars and less melancholy. On "Blind Faith," the second track, tackles his father's death head on, questioning his stubborn faith singing "faith can be blind, but it cannot justify, the tragedy of love's demise; we can't replace," and describes his death "like a whisper in the night, you slipped away."
Throughout the record, Myles he shows his vocal range quite well but he also breaks out several instruments. Guitar, acoustic guitar, bass and did I hear a banjo? "Devil on the Wall" begins with a haunting echo vocal then spins out into an Elvis-inspired country-like riff that reminds me of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" before spinning off again, tottering on verge of rockabilly, and then just plain rock. It's a wild ride.
Indeed I did hear a banjo. Everything on Year of the Tiger was written on acoustic or resonator guitar and recorded directly to tape using a limited number of tracks. Kennedy himself plays banjo, lap steel, bass, and mandolin in addition to guitar on the record and he was joined only by drummer Zia Uddin and Tim Tournier on bass.
"Turning Stones" is not a personal favorite. The reason? It sounds like Paul Simon. Myles, who admits that he is a Paul Simon fan, has such an iconic voice that it feels lost somewhere in this song. It's the Myles Kennedy I was afraid would appear throughout the record, but until this track, he managed to own each song very powerfully. "Turning Stones" comes across as a throwback to 70's lounge music - a bit too playful for the subject matter. And yet, the lyrics are a fascinating trip that draws out all the questions a four year old boy might ask his mother about his father's death. The only thing that saves it for me are the lyrics. "Praying for the answer to a God I've never seen," he sings, recognizing that his father's death made him question the very definition of faith.
For last three songs, "Love Can Only Heal," which has already been released as a single, "Songbird" and "One Fine Day," he finds his melody in a trio of mid-tempo ballads, and this is where Myles shines best, even in a lower register. He tells us, "through our tragedies we find out who we are." Finally, he comes full circle, finding hope in the fact that love is eternal.
Kennedy definitely has some cathartic moments throughout this record. He visits his pain again and again, processing the feelings that his father's death left him with as a young boy. What he leaves behind is an album that provides closure, taking us through the stages of his grief, the mystery of faith, and the redemption he finds in letting go, discovering hope for the future.
The lyrics throughout the record are brilliant. As a Kennedy fan, it's too easy to love this album, but if the truth be told, upon hearing the first single "Year of the Tiger," I might have been tempted to turn away. Rather than turn away, I've played several songs on repeat. I dare you not to as well.
This record is a must for any Alter Bridge fan, but his audience could very easily be much broader than that. As he rolls out his tour for this album, do one thing. Listen. He's written the memoirs of his life out and dropped them on this solo effort. He's telling you his story in the best way he knows.
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