There’s a lot that makes up Duff McKagan musically. Best known as the bass player and co-songwriter for Guns N’ Roses, his newest solo release Tenderness shows him bravely venturing into an Americana fueled direction that actually suits him quite well. If you’re expecting the power and post punk edge of Gn’R, you’re likely facing a bit of disappointment. But, if you’re looking for “tenderness” then you’ll find it here. This album has its share of edginess, it’s just that that edge comes from a more lyrical approach rather than a sonic assualt.
Tenderness is definitely a statement record more than anything else. A bare bones approach towards social commentary, if you will. McKagan’s thoughtfully rendered lyrics cover a vast amount of subjects here, that mostly center around the social ills that we all face daily. School shootings (“Parkland” ), the political climate (“Chip Away”), domestic abuse (“Last September”) homelessness (“Cold Outside”), and the opioid Crisis (“Falling Down”). McKagan expertly approaches these subjects in a manner that never comes across trivialized or overtly politicized. These songs are personal, sincere and bold. McKagan simply sings from the heart, seemingly as if trying to unburden a troubled soul the best way he knows how.
On Tenderness, McKagan has surrounded himself with the best of the best. Essentially backed by Shooter Jennings and his stellar band, Jennings also masterfully proves his worth mixing and producing the album. Tenderness is earthy and rich, and even carries with it a gritty edge. Never does it come across as overwrought or insincere; never just another rocker trying his hand at country. Jennings along with guitarist John Schreffler, Aubrey Richmond on fiddle, John Graboff on pedal steel and Jamie Douglass on drums lend a healthy dose of authenticity that carries this one through very effectively. There are moments that see the song structures take unheralded and somewhat questionable turns. But never are these diversions enough to take away from the obvious message that McKagan and Jennings intended. Rather, the ability to deviate from the norm actually anchors McKagn’s uniqueness and shows his ability to effortlessly glide into an unexpected genre.
Tenderness was an album that I began to appreciate more with each subsequent listen. Personal highlights for me were the title track and the perfectly placed album closing track, “Don’t Look Behind You”. These two songs bookmarking the album in a way that it seems that we’ve just stolen a glance at McKagan’s private journals and writings. McKagan’s “Tenderness” shows just that. Tenderness, sincerity and ultimately a more optimistic approach from a man that’s done his share of hard living. There’s confidence here, along with hard earned wisdom and a belief that we’re better than the sum of our parts.
McKagan just completed a run of shows with Jennings and his band in support that garnered rave reviews. These shows additionally featured Ted Russell Kamp handling bass duties for McKagan, allowing him to direct his focus on vocals and acoustic guitar. McKagan will be heading to Europe, and playing more solo dates here in the states as well as dates with Guns N’ Roses in the the fall. More info on McKagan as well as Tenderness can be found by visiting his website here: http://www.duffonline.com/