Manhattan Project - Kevin K (MVD/Real Kool Kat)
A bunch of New York City’s rock and roll past and present recently gathered in Manhattan to celebrate and play the music of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.
Led by the eternally cool Walter Lure, who was assisted by Blondie drummer Clem Burke, ex-Lower East Side resident and MC5 member Wayne Kramer, Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson and a bunch of guest vocalists, the band played four sold-out shows. And they were reportedly underwhelming.
I wasn’t there. Someone who was and whose opinion I trust reckoned it wasn’t so much Too Much Junkie Business but more likely Too Few Rehearsals (and the notoriously excessive Stinson appeared to be smashed.) Kevin K isn’t anywhere near as well known as any of them but he would have done the music justice. Dead certain.
Kevin K is one of The Bowery scene’s last remaining survivors. He was born in New York City's outskirts in Buffalo but finished honing his rock and roll chops in the downtown dives of the 1980s NYC underground. He couldn’t see CBGB from his house on Bleeker Street, but he could probably smell it.
Playing alongside Thunders, Testors, the Cramps, Cheetah Chrome and many more, Downtown’s grime and grit got into his blood (along with some other things), but while most of his compatriots have retired or passed through old age or misadventure, Mr K is thankfully still flying a flag for Real Music.
And that brings us to “Manhattan Project”, which takes KK’s tally of albums to 30-something (including earlier bands The Road Vultures and New Toys). If you know his body of work, there’ll be no surprises here. Mr K’s characteristic vocal (somewhere between a Thunders sneer and a plaintive wail) is front and centre, sparring with hard his trademark fat-toned guitar chug ’n’ grind.
Kevin plays most of the instruments (he was originally a drummer) with able guitar support from Joey D. “Manhattan Project” was put to tape cheaply in a North Buffalo studio (called “Chinese Rocks”, if ya gotta know.) The music is determinedly street-level but soulful, with melodies in all the right places.
Opener “Hey Hey Hey” mixes old school Alice Cooper Band with synthetic horns and teak-hard guitar. It’s one of those moments when you just know the rest of the album’s going to work. The quality is maintained throughout.
These songs are some of Kevin's strongest. Brevity’s often a K by-word but a couple even clock in above, or just under, the four-minute mark. There are 16 of the buggers in all and they come at you, rolling through the door, one after another, like drunks streaming into a dive bar at happy hour.
Lyrically speaking, dissertations on the seamy side of city life are standard K fare. So are bittersweet love songs and redemption tales. References to his influences (World War II, the NYC musical underground) are legion but they’re never rendered awkwardly.
Covers of the Heartbreakers’ “All By Myself” and Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” are rendered faithfully and with spirit. The guitar interplay with Joey D on the former is jaggedly sweet. K digs into his own back pages and reprises “Better Class Of Slut” and manages to make it sound dirtier than the original. “Bar Stuck” features Kev’s old man on superb, wailing blues harp.
Look, you might already know Thunders and Waldo and that’s great. Kevin K is probably even well under your radar. To paraphrase the Heartbreakers: Take a chance on him. Dive right in. The music won’t be that easy to find check the links below) but it’ll worth your while because Kevin K is The Real Deal.