REVIEW: Chip & Tony Kinman’s “Sounds Like Music” is Tantalizing


Chip & Tony Kinman’s Sounds Like Music (Omnivore Records)

This 22-track of previously unissued songs of the Kinman Brothers’ bands was impressive. But you might’ve had to be a fan to fully appreciate it.

Brothers Chip & the late Tony Kinman were notable for cowpunk, country-rock, alt-country that blended seamlessly. Their 3-LP 1981-7 Rank & File (Austin, Texas band), their earlier California group The Dils, the later hard-edged Blackbird, & more traditional country Cowboy Nation — all left an impression.

While some tracks on this hour-plus LP will be of interest to fans, as it showcases their versatility, the uninitiated could find the pacing & musical excursions a bit scatter-shot. However, I’ll weed through the field & pick some juicer plums.

The early 4 tracks are primitive, mainly for aficionados. It attempted to capture the excitement of a far-earlier band that preceded them — The Premiers’ 1961 minor-hit live “Farmer John,” but fell slightly short. What does succeed is the Kinmans’ musical personalities that surface regardless of the sawdust. The first good intro is an outtake from the Blackbird days where Chip & Tony play most of the instruments. It’s a heavy cover of Tom Waits’“Jersey Girl” from 1994. Track 6 “Dope,” is harder edged. I bought the initial Blackbird LP & enjoyed it all.

The early Rank & File was more caustic, cowpunk that later developed into a more melodic, ragtop down unit. Reminded me of early Wire (“Dot Dash”) in spots. As good as some unreleased tracks are, I understand why they were trimmed. Blackbird had multiple exultant, jubilant melodies, tight arrangements & potential — but these extras were candles that just didn’t stay quite as brightly lit.

Sprinkled through some tracks is the great Alejandro Escovedo on guitar. The quieter “Lucky Day,” places the group in a more Grateful Dead setting. “The Revolution Is Rising,” is another Blackbird leftover — the Kinmans’ synths, guitars & heavy Jeff Raphael drums pounds through with dead-eye precision with a typical authoritative Ritchie Dietrich vocal.  It has punk and possesses a potent progressive heavy metal slash.

My guess is the Kinmans bottled up many genres in their repertoire that didn’t always fit their LPs (sounds like Neil Young). They went through times where they wanted traditional; then more rocking and then more country. I don’t think they ever settled on one style – though it’s evident they excelled at each.

The flaw?  That might confuse an audience. Too many genres. Attention span challenged. There is no lack of material or approach, but there’s a lack of focus.

Rank & File or the Kinman Brothers solo could’ve been a rich musical vein. Such as The Grateful Dead or Hot Tuna. The Dead did indeed focus. From psychedelic-jam outfit to countrified-hippie storytellers. The Kinmans’ could’ve been a Little Feat with an edge. The talent & musicianship was there. Track 15 – “Restless,” proves my point. This is a masterpiece. Vocals/guitars — full-bodied, determined & catchy.

“Landslide,” continues in a rousing vein that suggests they could’ve played with Jack Cassady, Jorma, Jerry Garcia, & Richard Greene. “Blue Hair,” a 1992 Blackbird outtake carries a Rank & File tradition. A thrash of guitars, hard bass thump, raucous drums, a pinch of folky vocals. Tantalizing.

More Blackbird scraps: “Perfect Day,” & “She’s Real Gone,” adds synths but the Rank & File melodic playfulness remains. It nearly suggests the eccentric band Sparks (Mael Brothers) style. I’m surprised “She’s Real Gone,” didn’t make a final cut – it’s solid.

The Cowboy Nation “Rebel,” brings the best Rank & File tradition with Blackbird sonics. From throat-slitting grunge to grape eating sweetness. Deep vocals & country psyche with pedal steel. In closing: another 1989 Blackbird piece “All the Same,” has a prison chain rock beat with static synths. Almost industrial.

Produced by Chip Kinman & Cheryl Pawelski. Release date June 28th & available at Spotify, iHeart, & Apple Music.


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