Kieran Kane Comes Out from the Dark (6/05/98)

Kieran Kane, Six Months, No Sun (Dead Reckoning Records 1998) - One of the best singer/songwriters working in Nashville these days is Kieran Kane. Moving past his recordings with the critically-acclaimed country duo, the O'Kane's, Kieran mixes rock, country, and bluegrass to produce a sound that is classic Americana.

And that's really where the action in American music is. While the 60's and 70's brought a great fusion of blues and power rock, the last few years have shown that songwriting and bluegrass roots remain a classic staple.

Kieran works with his regular cast (several of whom also own an interest in Dead Reckoning Records) on the new album, including Tammy Rogers on fiddle, mandolin, and vocals, Mike Henderson on guitars, Harry Stinson on drums, and Alison Prestwood and Glenn Worf on bass. Special guests include John Jarvis on the Hammond B-3 organ, and Jimmy Hall on harmonica.

Six Months, No Sun is one of the strongest albums of the year. The disc opens with "Tabletop Dancer," which brings to mind smokey nights in dimly-lit bars. Kane gives a nod to songwriters like Nick Lowe and David Allen Coe on such tongue-in-cheek country rockers as "Physical Thing," and "You're Just Takin' Up Space."

Kane's country roots come through on the title track, which is a jaunty Nashville number with just enough twang. Yet Kieran really delivers the goods on his more reflective, subdued numbers. Thus, his cover of "What a Wonderful World" is a delight, while the highlight of the album is "Hysteria," co-written with Irish songwriter Andy White.

Intriguingly, when I posted a comment about "Hysteria" on the 'Net, I received a reply from someone who was at the songwriting seminar in Ireland when Kane and White wrote "Hysteria." An understated gem, "Hysteria" shines a fascinating flashlight at nightlife.

If you think Nashville's getting too homogenized, you're right. For the real McCoy, get down with Keiran Kane.

Jules Shear, Between Us (High Street Records 1998) - What a letdown. Jules Shear is capable of writing a great pop song, as evidenced by "All Through the Night" (a top-5 hit for Cyndi Lauper in 1984) and the Bangles' hit, "If She Knew What She Wants."

However, there's no lighthearted pop on Between Us. Now 20 years into his recording career, Shear remains badly wounded by his decade-old breakup with Aimee Mann (of 'Til Tuesday). So the man who helped created MTV Unplugged (he hosted the show in his first year) has unloaded Between Us, which consists of 15 dirges based on unhappiness and bad relationships.

The idea for the album is intriguing - Jules singing duets with a diverse roster of female singers, including Carole King, Paula Cole, Roseanne Cash, and Margo Timmins (of the Cowboy Junkies). Yet the ever-changing voices only add to the sense of unease on the album.

Not that Between Us is all bad. Songs like "On These Wheels Again" with Suzzy Roche have an old-timing folk feel, while "Fear to be Right" with Mary Ramsey (the new lead singer for the 10,000 Maniacs) is a stab at an uptempo number.

But for the most part, pop is dead, as for Jules, leaving only unrequited love and dark melodies. How many different ways can you sing the "Lament for My Cock Blues in 3/4 Time" before it gets really old?

And that's a shame, as such albums as The Great Puzzle (1992) contain material that brings me back again and again. On Between Us, the joke quickly wears thin.

I've followed Jules Shear for a decade, and Between Us ranks as one of his least satisfying efforts.

Far, Water & Solutions (Immortal/Epic 1998) - The quartet known as Far is back with a new slice of hard rock in Water & Solutions. With 12 original songs, the Sacramento-based band finds success in a two-week recording session.

Far consists of singer and guitarist Jonah Sonz Matranga, lead guitarist, Shun Lopez, bass player, John Gutenberger, and drummer, Chris Robyn. Water & Solutions was recorded at the Magic Shop and was produced by D. Sardy.

On the followup to Tin Cans With Strings to You (their debut disc), Far shows that it knows how to rock without getting heavy. Songs like "Mother Mary" and "Wear it so Well" have moody edges, but never sink into dark waters.

A lot of what passes for "hard rock" today is just too depressing for me. But not Water & Solutions, which won't wear you out.

- Randy Krbechek © 1998

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