REVIEW: Kinky Friedman’s “Circus of Life” is Impeccable Songwriting on First Release in 40 Years


Like many great stories, “Circus of Life” started with a phone call from an old friend:

Willie: Hey Kinky, what are you up to?

Kinky: Hi Willie, not much, I’m watching “Matlock”.

Willie: Uh, Kinky, that’s a sure sign of depression. I think you better start writing again.

Just like that, we have the first album of new Kinky Friedman original songs in nearly 40 years. “Circus of Life” will be released on his own label, Echo Hill Records on July 6 th.

Perhaps seeking to address that owed debt, “Autographs in the Rain” (Song for Willie), Friedman attempts to repay some of that gratitude to his old friend. “I never really thanked him/so I’ll put in a song/ for I hold him in the highest regard’. The structure of the song captures the feel of a Nelson song, from the distinct “train beat” drum style, to the actual mid song snippet of “On The Road Again”, crowd applause and all. Above all, the song features the immediately recognizable harmonica work of Mickey Raphael. A true musical treasure, Raphael’s subtle, but instantly recognizable playing style is featured in nearly every track, and really helps define and connect the tales of the songs to the music. Nelson also gets a nod, as does Bob Dylan and the great state of Texas, in the album’s perfect opening track “A Three Legged Dog Named Freedom”. “There ain’t no quit in either one of us”.

“Back To Grace” touches on alcoholism and the unconditional love of others that suffers as a result, as well as the sadness and self knowledge one realizes while struggling with addiction and the inevitable self destruction, while the album’s title track “Circus of Life” offers a poignant evaluation of the despair people often battle within, all while putting on a brave face for those around them. Indeed, the theme of the album mostly centers on self-reflection, and the all too familiar fragilities of the human condition. Friedman accomplishes this like the storyteller he is through the masterful use of metaphors that allow the listener to ponder the outcome of the characters so wonderfully created by Friedman in each song. This is captured brilliantly in the tale of homeless man seeking refuge in Denny’s that makes up “Jesus in Pajamas”, as well as the inevitable task of facing one’s own mortality on one’s own terms in the album’s closing track “Saying Goodbye”:  All of my life I’ve been busy/ dreaming of saying goodbye.”

As is often the case with great writers, sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate how much of the author’s self is present in their work. This is something Friedman accomplishes skillfully, and even with ease. Yet, sometimes it’s abundantly clear a song is based on oneself , as is the case with “A Song About You” and “Me and My Guitar”, two songs that leave little doubt as to their origin.

Complementing the impeccable songwriting, Friedman is backed by a king’s ransom of talent. Besides the aforementioned Raphael on harmonica, Kinky is joined by Original Texas Jewboy Little Jewford, Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornados alum Augie Meyers, multi instrumentalist Joe Cirotti, Clay Meyers, Jim Beal and long time collaborator Brian Molnar, who also produced the album. From that impressive lineup we are gifted an album of stark beauty and simplicity. There’s no flash, nor the syrup here that is so common of most albums out of Nashville these days. Instead, it’s an album that rides the perfect wave with basic God given talent. Great songwriting backed by great musicianship, with no indication of a wasted word or note.

Kinky Friedman will be touring extensively throughout July and August with producer and artist in his own right, Brian Molnar opening each show. Molnar will be featuring songs from his own new solo release “Within Blue” . You can find tour dates here:

Kinky Friedman – Circus of Life

Echo Hill Records




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