34 years since forming and 33 years since the release of their criminally underrated Scarred but Smarter and Drivin N Cryin’ is still out there making great music. June 21st sees the release of their Aaron Lee Tasjan produced album Live the Love Beautiful and folks, let me tell ya, this is one album you absolutely need to add to your collection.
The collection kicks off with “Free Ain’t Free” a half spoken word half sung ode to the illusion and collapse of the American dream. Kinda heartbreakerish it devolves into a punky rave up towards the end, signaling this a band not content to phone it in. “I Used to Live Around Here” completes the opening salvo. Lead singer/songwriter Kevn Kinney is in fine form, his jaggeresque snarl unleashed in this tale about times gone past. The band stretches out, sonics swirling about amidst a psychedelic moment to close the track. I’m not sure this was a song they would have or could have made ten or fifteen years ago but it feels right on target today. I give credit to three things for this, one-Kevn Kinney has ALWAYS been an amazing singer and songwriter it just took a moment for the pendulum to swing back his way, two – producer Aaron Lee Tasjan. Having spent 2014-2016 in the band along with rooming with Kinney he had the vision to see them as more than their beer soaked sing along moment would suggest plus the ability to coax it out of the foursome. And three – the addition of yet another bad ass guitar player. Recent times have seen Sadler Vaden, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Warner Hodges (Jason & The Scorchers) and now the extremely talented Estonian Laur Joamets completes the band as they stake their claim as rock and roll survivors. “Step By Step” sounds like it could have been at home on Mystery Road save for the introspective musings. The addition of organ compliments the song, giving it a Sunday church kinda feeling which lasts for a few moments before the drums and jangly guitars crash the party, resulting in a joyous moment.
“Spies” is raw and crunchy. It feels like you are in a sketchy bar and you can feel the fight that is about to break out. “Live the Life Beautiful” is aptly named. It does not sound like the band you thought you remembered. The tone and feel are different, vibrant and challenging before taking a detour into a shimmering moment of psychedelica that left me wanting more. “If I’m Not There I’ll be Here” crashes out of the gate with a galloping drum beat that never lets up. Guitars and keys mix it up and I can only imagine the energy crackling from the stage when they play this live. Kinney’s tribute (with Dan Baird) to Small Faces/Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan fittingly enough named “Ian McLagan” is a fitting and just memorial. The harmonica, mandolin and slide guitar mixing in and about conjures up the sound and feel of McLagan’s famous groups to such great effect that I sat back and listened to it again and again, all the while grinning from ear to ear.
“Over and Over” has a very English guitar pop sound to it which works given the whimsical trip down memory lane. It, like every song before it, stands on its own as part of this overwhelmingly excellent collection. Closing the set is “Sometimes I Wish I Didn’t Care” (with Elizabeth Cook) which acts as a time machine taking me back to the first time I heard Kinney’s first solo record MacDougal Blues or maybe it was to when I listened to the Sun Tangled Angel Revival release. Or maybe, just maybe it just reaffirmed that Kinney and company are timeless in their approach to music and a great song is a great song.
Live the Love Beautiful is as close to a flawless album as you can expect. The production is crisp where it needs to be and a little loose where it wants to be. Tasjan found a way to revitalize or maybe reinvigorate a band that many had pigeonholed as that band we sang along to in college. This is a moment where they not only shrug that label aside but plant the flag firmly for what the future hopefully holds in store for them and us as listeners. Did I see myself listening to Drivin N Cryin thirty years down the road? I am not sure, but what I am sure of is I am beyond thrilled that they are still around, still vital and still willing to rock and roll. Get your copy here: https://www.drivinncryin.com and read our interview, here: Interview: Kevn Kinney on Drivin N Cryin’s New Album, the Beatles, and Gardening