TRAMP STAMP - Kevin K (Real Kat Records)
Another day, another Kevin K album. Which is not to infer that there's anything throwaway or lazy about "Tramp Stamp". It's simply acknowledging that Kevin K is both amazingly prolific AND good, which is no mean feat.
"Tramp Stamp" is one of the best sounding albums Kevin K has put his name to. The guitars are right up front with a killer tone. Mr K reels off some startlingly great solos ("City Kill") and the songs are all goodies. They're dripping in those trademark K melodies with more hooks than a three-storey bait and tackle shop but never compromise on power.
The familiar themes are also intact: Girls, hard living and the decline and the fall of New York City to yuppie hordes ("City Kill"). The Ramones get an obligatory reference (the killer pop-punk "Just The Girl") and there's even a song about (legal) drugs, the 12-bar lament "Sudafed Blues", wherein Kevin rails against the removal of pseudoephedrine from cold and flu tablets. A man's gotta write about something, right?
Kevin co-produced "Tramp Stamp" and it sounds uncluttered and complete.
"Dreaming Again" is a short half head behind "Just The Girl" as the best tune on the record. Like all the best songs, it's a simple enough exercise with chugging guitar and the faint glimmer of keyboard colouring. No need to fuck with this formula. "Wild For You" is a foot-flat-to-the-floor, unabashed driving song. Strap yourself in and for for a burn.
"Only Lovers Left Alive" takes a demo by Kevin's late brother Alan and fully fleshes it out. It's both respectful and rocking, a fine song delivered with conviction.
Just like "Tramp Stamp".- The Barman
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FIRESTORM - Kevin K & Texas Terri (Beast Records)
The virtual ink's barely dry on our review of the CD (scroll down to read it) and Beast Records have put this monster out on thick, black vinyl. If you're into LPs and are halfway a fan of Texas Terri or Kevin K you won't need any encouragement to make this part of your collection.
It's aptly titled and jumps out of the speakers. Begs the question why, schedules allowing, Mr K and Terri shouldn't get together and record another like this? Eight tracks isn't enough.
Click on the link in the heading and buy it - that's the reason we put them there. - The Barman
JOEY AND ME - Kevin K (Real Kat /Kicking Records)
There was a note with this saying it might be the last album for the Kevin K. Let's hope he's joking. The most prolific guy in the underground behind Bill Childish, Kevin K has notched 25 albums under his own name and "Joey And Me" is among his best.
Kevin's made a name for laconic, Thundersesque punk rock with plaintive vocals and generous lashings of glam rock guitar. This is his "Beggar's Banquet", where a handful of the songs have an acoustic, folky base. There's ample spiky rockers like "Big Tits", "Sno-Daze" and the stinging slide of the Rose Tattoo-flavoured "Smack and Swasticas" (sic), but the title tune (a homage to a departed cat, not a Ramone), "Omaha" (written after visiting the D-Day beaches in Normandy) and the wistful "I'm Dead Already" are out of the mould.
You can take the boy out of New York and all that, so it's no surprise to find "Joey And Me" was recorded and produced in NYC by longtime collaborator Patrick Klein. There's a nice urban claustrophobia permeating the rockers that wouldn't be there if they'd recorded in a barn in the middle of nowhere.
Klein and Kevin handle guitars while Freddy Villano and drummer Neil Cicione lock down the bottom end. They make for a no-nonsense combo that tackles mostly simple songs with brutally deft effectiveness. Kevin adds some cheesy keyboards to "Still Miss You" but these tunes are delivered straight up, with stinging lead breaks and pop hooks intact.
It only seems 10 minutes since "Firestorm", the double act record with Texas Terri, made its way into the world but its follow-up lacks nothing. Just to prove Kevin K can multi-skill there's also a two-disc DVD set, "The Successful Loser", being released simultaneously. (You'll also find the book, "How To Become A Successful Loser" on Amazon and it's reviewed here.)
The first disc of the DVD set compiles club footage from 1985-2003, including songs by the Road Vultures and rooftop and street-level busking with late brother Alan K, while the second ("European Loser") weds candid tour footage (dressing rooms, signings, a visit to a Ramones Museum) with smoking live stuff shot in tiny clubs. Some of the sound quality's well short of 5.1 mixes, especially on the second disc, but when the content is as good as this who really gives a shit? - The Barman
FIRESTORM - Kevin K & Texas Terri (Real Kat Records)
A more apt title couldn't have been penned for this nine-tracker from two underground legends - after all, Texas Terri and Kevin K have been throwing fuel onto the flames of their respective rankings as perpetual outsiders for years. "Firestorm" continues down the unpaved track of exemplary punk rock and roll that both have traveled for as long as anyone can recall.
Like most great pairings you wonder why someone didn't think of it before. Kevin and Texas Terri split vocal duties and their frayed, edgy voices complement each other to a tee - to the point that it's sometimes hard to tell them apart. Terri probably sings lower, come to think of it. Duets? Let just say the interplay on "Have a Good Day" sure beats Natalie Cole singing along to tapes of her dead Dad.
Backing comes from Kevin's European touring band with the Trash Brats' Ricky Rat on lead guitar. If you know their previous recordings you'll recognise the tight-but-taut Dead Boys/Heartbreakers sound this crew has been peddling around the cafes and bars of the Continent, off and on, for the best part of a decade.
Texas Terri is an underrated keeper of the punk flame, a confronting and colourful female version of Iggy whose gutter-punk music is one of the best things to come out of LA in the past 20 years. She's been on hiatus from music, taking it up again for a recent European tour which gave her and Mr K the chance to collaborate.
Worked up at a pre-gig rehearsal in France and recorded soon after, "Firestorm" comprises Kevin K songs plus two super covers ("What Love Is" and "London Boys"), the choice of which won't surprise anyone. Someone's gotta keep that stuff alive, huh? On the Dead Boys song, Terri sounds brattier than Stiv.
Of the originals, "Love Kills Love" is a fairly typical Kevin K tune that should have you singing along quicker than you can say "What are the words?" "Graceland To Neverland" draws a cruel but fair parallel between Elvis and M.J., while the "hidden" track that closes things features guitars dirty enough to stain your stereo a permanent shade of brown. It's an untitled ode to a girl on the Internet. - The Barman
PALM TREES AND HUMIDITY - Kevin K and the St Pete Allstars (self released)
Just because it's a budget "fans only" issue doesn't account for this one disappearing into a pile of review albums after protracted plays. So it's been out for thew last part of 2008 and most of '09.
If you've been paying attention you'll also notice that Kevin K is one of a handful of grizzled punks lauded around these parts as something of a trans-national living musical asset, a guy who's so good that the rest of the world needs to wake the fuck up and take notice. So can you come up with a reason not to like this? Me neither.
The backstory is that the St Pete Allstars are Mr K's local band when he's enjoying the warm climes of Florida as opposed to stints in L.A., Europe, the Mid-West and NYC. When someone rolled tape over their live set, deep in the bowels of someone's grandma's garage, the result was too good not to release in some form. Production is bare bones, dubbed straight to eight-track with no re-recordings except the vocals, and that's not going to worry the devotees.
This album is (another) dozen chunky guitar songs, all but one clocking in at under three minutes and most talking about the usual things (girls, the old punk rock days, the weather.) Musically, it's straight-up rock and roll. Kevin's guitar snarls, except on the acoustic "Mr Ruckus" and "Still Miss You", and his mildly nasal, world-weary vocal just gets better.
Kevin's clearly still a Johnny Genzales fan, especially when he breaks into a lead, but any claims that he's a mere shadow of the man who always seemed to be waiting for the man have long been laid to rest, if they ever had any credibility.
The backing band's a goodie. Drummer Edo McGrady has a firm but nimble touch to his playing that suits the slightly sunny disposition of the music.
Baseball fans take note: Closing track "Go Rays" is a Tampa Bay Rays anthem, courtesy of Kevin K and the St Pete Allstars. Take me out to the ballpark, this sounds like the Replacements on vacation.
Grab a copy while they last at CDBaby.- The Barman
DEUTSCHLAND - Kevin K (Kicking Records)
If it feels like Kevin K albums are falling out of the sky like rain, remember that we're in a rock and roll drought, compared to the '70s and '80s. The walls are closing in, not tumbling down and we need stuff like this like Kim Fowley needs fame. So be thankful for another small mercy and the 18th studio effort under the Kevin K moniker.
"Deutschland" is something of a concept album, inspired by Bowie and Iggy's Berlin LPs ("Low and "Lust For Life" respectively.) It was meant to be recorded in Berlin at Hansa-By-The-Wall Studio but finances didn't allow, so Kevin and his European touring band settled for a French stone cottage full of ghosts.
Their intention was to make us feel like we're sitting in a smoke-filled cafe in the Schoneberg district of Berlin at 3am and it succeeds, even if the club owners would probably be playing bad techno these days. The trademark Kevin K, old school, New York punk, gutter/street guitar grit is ever-present, but it's laced with generous serves of synth. Fear not - it's very different from any of its predecessors but these trimmings work in its favour.
"Intrusive" opens with keening synth that steps aside for the surge of chugging guitars. There's a neat keyboard melody line but for the most part it's top order guitar rock. "American Sector" follows the same path, with keys setting the scene and providing a pulsing throb in the back of the soundscape as guitars and Kevin K's sharp vocal go to work.
"How Many Times" recalls the "Magic Touch" album with its washes of strings and subtle harmonica providing texture against the barbed-wire guitars. There's a killer melody at the heart of this one and a reminder that Kevin writes superb tunes.
The trio of "She Is No Fun", "Poland" and "Wrong Girl" mine more familiar territory before "Kim" takes things out on a limb with rolling tom-toms and buzz-bomb guitar presaging a big, heavy chorus. "The Red Headed Girl" and "The Wall Came Tumbling Down" are rockers, the closing title track a synth-laden spoken work piece Velvets rhythm, a la "All Tomorrow's Parties."
The playing's great: Detroit-based ex-Trash Brat and current Bootsey X and the Lovemasters member Ricky Rat and Kevin indulge in some meaty six-string interplay with bassist Ritchie Buzz playing a strong role in arranging the left-field songs.
A collection of 10 terrific Teutonic tunes. - The Barman
COOL WAYS - Kevin K and The Hollywood Stars (Rankoutsider)
The rock and roll family tree of Lower East Side garage rodent Kevin K is enough to cause even Pete Frame heartburn, the past quarter century and change a revolving door of true believers like Aunt Helen, The Toys, The Road Vultures, Trash Brats, Freddy Lynxx and The Corner Gang, The Kevin K Band, The Real Kool Kats, and now The Hollywood Stars. Along the way, he’s shared a thousand clammy club gigs with various Ramones, Dolls, Heartbreakers, and Dead Boys, shoring up a curriculum vitae that doesn’t really call for a cover letter.
But he’s never been much concerned with what the Myspace generation would call “street cred,” a craggy, tattooed Paul Westerberg gone to seed who prefers to expose his battered soul going up in flames on a discography that now bulges with 16 studio albums giving new meaning to “sleaze,” “glam,” and “grit.” If you don’t feel like you’ve woken up the morning after a rum bender face down in the gutter with moss growing on your tongue, dirt under your fingernails, bruised ribs, and a head full of matted hair after listening to any of them, then you must not have been paying attention.
The constant search and craving for that stop-dead-in-my-tracks feeling that set my world on fire as a kid is so often a fruitless one that when I do find it, I’m often prone to fauning, gushing, overstatement. So look out below: “Cool Ways” is a chugging, crunchy, sugar-coated kick in the pants, a near-perfect shake-up of guitar pop, punk swagger, and greasy swing. It makes my head spin, my liver quiver, my bladder splatter, and my heart reel. Admit it – it sounds better than sitting by your computer waiting for Radiohead to deem you worthy enough to download “In Rainbows,” doesn’t it?
With effortless aplomb, K and The Stars (drummer Pat Morgan, bassist and Streetwalkin’ Cheetah Dino Everett, guitarist Tsubasa Muratani, and saxophonist Aaron Minton) knock out feisty, peerless bubblepunk songs about girls, taking pills, and getting the hell out of town, seemingly concerned with nothing much more than reveling in the glory of ringing guitars, honking sax, rattling drums, and gooey pop hooks.
“She’s Got the Look” is a churning, good-time Stonesy stomp, “Cool Ways” and “You Tonight” would slot nicely onto a new “Yellow Pills” anthology, and “Makeup and Breakup” is the greatest song Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure never wrote, an “L.A.M.F.” outtake where the guitars snarl, spit, and hiss like feral cats trampled by rampaging circus elephants while a kindergarten class field trip screams from the bleachers. I’m not sure where K found Muratani, a swanky, pint-sized reference book of old-school licks, but he’d better keep him on a short leash.
By the time “Sick of Brick” and “Getaway” get zapped by the laser beam, there’s no doubt these guys are in a zone, on a roll of Herculean proportions, apparently eating their vitamins every day and saying their prayers every night, perhaps second guessing the bartering of their souls in exchange for a run of six straight songs to open this album they’d be hard pressed to ever equal, let alone top. When K brags “I took a pee on the Joshua tree/It made me feel like a celebrity,” it’s obvious the guy feels bulletproof.
Incredibly, there’s no discernible drop in quality control on the second half of the album although the tone is just a bit darker. “Night of the Living Dolls” is a tip of the hat to the four members of that band who have cashed in their chips, “Rehab” takes Paris Hilton and David Hasselhoff to task, and “This Is My Blood” is the sonic equivalent of K’s tombstone epitaph (“Rock and roll played poorly/Played in a hurry…Running through my veins just like mud”).
K’s production here is damn near perfect as well. It’s bright and crisp but he hasn’t sanded off all of the rough edges. The ramshackle guitars are way up in the mix and sound like a dust-up between Thunders, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Chuck Berry in the alley behind Max’s. The rhythm section have their say as well, spartan, economic, and in the pocket.
If only you could bottle this up and sell it… The attitude and craftsmanship that is. The disc’s available from Rankoutsider. - Clark Paull
HOLLYWOOD – Kevin K (Full Breach Kicks)
It’s might be a truism that Kevin K is rock and roll’s best-kept secret. If you’re a regular here you’ll no doubt be sick of hearing it (and I’m sick of writing it.) But I have to say it again: Kevin K is rock and roll’s best-kept secret. So if you’re in the dark, just go with the flow and get acquainted. Trust me, it'll all be for the best.
This is glam-inflected, gritty, honest-to-goodness, mid-tempo rock and roll of the sort that white bread mainstream radio won’t touch with a whip and a stool with very long legs. So you know it’s good. “Hollywood” (like the real place) is populated by stories about partying, being fucked up or down and out, in a way that ensures this is an album that can’t be tamed (and doesn’t want to be.)
It’s Studio Album Number 15 for the New York City-raised, card-carrying alumnus of The Bowery School of The Streets and it’s right up there with the recent run of trash-punk gems. The difference this time out is that there’s a re-visited emphasis on semi-acoustic ballads - three of them, “Single Girl”, “Hollywood High” and “Heartbreak Comedy”, sit at the centre of the album – and that most of the tunes are played with four different bands or with Kevin on all instruments. Joining in are The Hollywood Stars (Streetwalkin’ Cheetah Dino Everett on bass and Roy Morgan on drums), dirty French rock and rollers The Real Kool Kats and an un-named German band (a track apiece), The St Pete All Stars (from Mr K’s semi-permanent base of Florida) and The Lower East Side Band (no prizes for guessing where they’re from; producer Patrick Klein on bass and the enigmatically-named Nolan Ramone on drums). The result is a varied but uniformly excellent output.
A couple of songs are re-heated from the past but that shouldn’t trouble too many people. “Jennifer Love Song” (a tribute to Ghost Whispering Ms Hewitt) outdoes the original and I can live with another take on “Hook Me Up”. There’s the odd clunky lyric (“The Final Damnation”) and while hankering for the Good Old Days (“Joey and Dee Dee”) won’t bring them back, it sure is fun.
The credited closer, “Circle of Thieves”, is a 1988 Hollywood demo with Kevin on drums and his late brother and Road Vultures bandmate Alan K on bass, guitar and voice. It’s a curious, trippy tune with treated tape loops and a scorching solo. A nice final statement. There’s actually an uncredited bonus track that’s pretty cool too.
Punk rock might be your staple but don’t worry about there being an acoustic centrepiece to this album. My money’s on them and the other (amped-up) songs being written somewhere on a train or tour van in Kevin’s second home of Europe or in his more recent stamping ground of the Mid-West. It’s all in the delivery and the guy imbues everything he plays with a heartfelt honesty.
While I can’t concur with Mr K’s self-description of “loser”, I want to take him at his word that he’s happy. The bus for rock stardom might have left the terminal years ago when the Road Vultures were jostling with all those other potential Next Big Things back in New York City, but there’s still an audience for music that means it. If you’re switched on enough to be part of that crowd, look no further. - The Barman
ROCKIN ROLL DYNAMITE – Kevin K (Full Breach Kicks)
Mr Prolific is back - and for the last time with his French band The Real Kool Kats. It seems the demands of incessant touring and putting out four albums a year (without any diminution of quality) convinced everyone it was time to de-convene. While that’s a pity, this album is a fine postscript that stays true to their collective Kool Kats creed of dirty street punk rock delivered with the precision of a well-oiled switchblade.
Mr K hisself slips behind the kit for almost half the tunes but the core of this is a return to the familiar line-up of twin guitars, bass and drums, with the band leader handling vocals in his own distinctive style. If you don’t know what the deal is, this is as good as anywhere to start. Kevin K sits firmly at the place where punk-glam meets street punk-sleaze. Mostly straight-up and occasionally on the rocks, it packs a wallop that’s on a par with anyone else staking this turf.
While the focus was on working in Europe, I reckon Kevin K’s music became more abrasive. The melodic touches of his past records with his ‘80s crew, the Road Vultures, are played down on “Rockin Roll Dynamite” is a musical world away from the solo “Magic Touch” album of the early ‘90s. The grit’s most evident on the title track "Lie in a Ditch", where a grinding rhythm locks in with the savage meshing of six string gears.
"Life in a Ditch" does its level best to simulate same with stun-volume sustain guitars and abjectly simple lyrics. On others, like “Going Nowhere Fast”, there’s a renewed commitment to a Ramonesian wall-of-sound with a light dusting of vocal harmonies – although without da Bruddas’ latter-day speedcore pacings. Now, what’s the saying about taking the boy out of New York…?
Native New Yorker that he is, it’s no surprise then that Mr K and (US) band recently hosted a Johnny Thunders tribute night at a venue in his current home state of Florida. The Thunders association is a blessing or a curse, but the message here is that the guy holds up in his own right, while still carrying a musical torch for J. Genzales.
For you, "I was a Teenage Pig" is a cute song title, but for Kevin K it's a rocking throwback to Staten Island. "Hillbilly Man" incorporates scarifying slide guitar to drop a hint that Kevin's been borrowing country records from his mate Brian "Trash Brats" Oblivion's collection. "Old School" takes it away from the backroads and back to the streets with a driving metal feel and a declaration of proud rock dog curmudgeon 'tood.
Ya gets 10 originals and two covers for your money (one of the latter a sprawling but still potent regurgitation of “Death Trip”, the Stooges’ ode to shuffling off this mortal coil). I'm not counting "She", a co-write with his late brother Alan K reprised from Road Vultures days. There’s also a hidden extra that veers into shockabilly territory. Like Johnny T, Kevin K knows from what side of the ditch his musical inspirations sprang, and launches into a roughhouse cover of 1950s Louisiana rock and roll pioneer Paul Gayten’s “For You My Love”. Rockin'! - The Barman
PERFECT SIN - Kevin K and the Real Kool Kats (Full Breach Kicks)
No sooner do I retrospectively lay my mitts on a copy of "Sealed Works" from a few years back than another - new - album comes gushing out of the pipeline, courtesy of the one-man music industry that is Kevin K. Like London buses, it seems there'll be another one along any minute. Of course the important distinction is that the ride with Kevin K is infinitely more interesting.
Lesser rockers would be fearful of diluting their, uh, market through unleashing (excuse the clumsy Dolls pun) "too much, too soon". Not so Kevin K, who not only doesn't appear to give a rat's arse, but manages to maintain the quality. Some people we could name would be happy to own outtakes that rock this well.
Referencing the Ramones, the Heartbreakers and his own Road Vultures, Kevin K drags willing fans on a trip through the underbelly of streetlife. There's the odd lyrical borrowing from the Heartbreakers as well as the Stooges ("What It Takes"), as well as odes to recreation ("I Want Some Drugs"), old friends ("Hey Is Dee Dee Home?") and ex-girlfriends ("Perfect Sin"). File under Melodic Punk.
The Real Kool Kats are still K's French backing band and they sound better with every studio outing. Seemingly now restored to a four-piece, twin-guitar line-up, they blast out these 13 rockin' tunes with the dexterity that only living in the same cramped tour van can bring.
It's an un-buffed, hip-shaking and timeless attack, lightened by the mid-disc acoustic "Hanging on the Eight Ball" and a sax-enhanced, R & B cruiser, "Life After You", that's so lean you can see its ribcage. Be warned: The closer (and this album's cover) is a reverb-clouded but volatile take on Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man" that dances up a shitstorm.
It's becoming a tired theme, this contention that Kevin K is underground rock and roll's best kept secret, but it's a freak flag that we'll continue to fly until we punch our card for the last time, hang up the keyboard and turn to fertiliser. Like us, they might be a small deal in the multi-national scheme of things, but full marks to US label Full Breach Kicks for showing the same degree of faith and releasing this in Kevin's homeland. Now go and order a copy from them and see if I'm wrong.- The Barman
MR BONES - Kevin K (Realkat Records)
Kevin K's nailed what he does. And that's make monstrously good rock and roll records. If you agree and you're a fan, pride yourself in the knowledge that you've found out what the rest of the world has yet to.
Is this a nine-tune album or a 27-minute mini-album? Doesn't matter much and nor should it bother anyone that, stylistically , it's on the same path as the last three releases. The transplanted New Yorker (he divides his time between France and Florida) grinds out grimy, street anthems with lots of guitar and (in this case) a huge bottom end.
No surprise then to see Kevin's French bass player Patrick Klein twiddled the knobs, but have no fear - the guitar edge is never buried but left exposed and raw. Speaking of, The Real Kool Kats, the Franco backing band, appears to have shed a second guitarist, at least for this recording, which leaves it all up to Mr K. "Mr Bones" doesn't suffer for lack of six-string raunch (or from too many overdubs). More albums should sound this good and unencumbered by the studio shine that idiot record companies love to apply.
Like the best rock and roll, it's simple songs, for the most part built upon a gnarly riff or two, played without affectation. Check out "White Trash", almost relentless in its mid-tempo thud and grinding guitar figure. There's the odd detour along the way - "Crack House" chugs along at breakneck pace and would be almost radio-friendly if the cute chorus wasn't about, uh, a Lower East Side crack house. A cover of "Up to My Neck" will please Acca Dacca fans (I'm not one of the millions but I'll tolerate them, just to keep the peace). I'm not familiar with the acoustic "Cherry Vanilla" but it sits well as a change of pace.
Some take issue with Kevin K's vocalising, tagging him as another Thunders soundalike. That's a lazy call and sells the guy way short. It's also drawing a long bow to compare the pair as guitarists because there's not many intersections other than they both hail from NYC and played the same dives.
The galling thing (still) is that Kevin's largely an unknown quantity in his homeland - although a smattering of shows in the US in 2004 at least put him back on the map after extensive time in Europe.
As an aside, it was heartening recently to receive email from another Aussie who was busy spinning Kevin K discs and charging his glass. If only a local label would pick up the licensing, we might get a sniff of a tour.
If all of the above is enough to convince you that it's time the rest of the world caught up with Kevin K, this disc might just be the best place to start. There's more than enough flesh on the bones to keep you satisfied and the rock and roll heart is beating strong. - The Barman
NEW YORK, NEW YORK: THE BEST OF KEVIN K – Kevin K (Lollipop Records)
Another Kevin K album, this one a “Best of” out of France, and the obvious question remains: Why isn’t Mr K in the firmament as one of underground rawk’s best-known stars? The guy’s consistency over fuck-knows-how-many albums is staggering, and all of these tunes are ‘keepers’.
With any highlights compilation you can quibble about what’s missing but, seriously, what’s the point? The stuff that is here is all good, often great, and that’s what you need to know. And here’s a heads-up: I’m a fan and I only know half these songs! That’s a measure of the man’s prolific nature since his Road Vultures days, and maybe also of his ability to operate below the music industry’s radar on his own (frugal) terms. The K hoes a row rich in buzz-edged, raunchy guitar, mid-tempo glam-rock-punk, with vocals not a million miles from those of the late John Genzales (or Thunders to most of us). It’s gritty and streetwise and you should delve into it. Often.
Kevin K paid his (and someone else’s) dues s in the early-‘80s with bands in Buffalo, NY, before moving closer to the New York City action by relocating to Staten Island. The next band, the aforementioned Road Vultures (whose ranks included late brother Alan K), moved in the same circles as Johnny Thunders et al, and became a fixture on the Lower East Side scene. Their status as house band at The Continental Divide yielded supports to just about any cool act you can name. Kevin’s subsequent solo career has based him in NYC and Europe (though he prefers the warmer climes of Florida, by all accounts).
So to the disc and this is full-blown guitar raunch from the get-go. “Crime Scene” is pretty much straight-up, mid-tempo rock and roll. No frills but earnest, with an economical solo. You can apply the same epithets to most of the songs that follow – they’re timeless, in a way, and proof that you don’t need to splurge on expensive studios or overdo the arrangements to come up with something simple and pure.
“Lonely Girl” (with strings! no less) is from Kevin’s most commercial release, the criminally ignored “Magic Touch”, and glitters like a diamond in a Lower East Side gutter. Just in case you’re nodding off, “Story of My Life” bursts out of the speakers with a crunch. The ‘50s-tarred “Heartbroken Again” gives a clue to what Kevin K was listening to on the radio when he was growing up and rides home on the back of a beefy harp-and-horn part.
“Bon Voyage” (the closer, naturally) is the sole unreleased track and doesn’t deviate far from most of what’s gone before. I understandably lean towards the more recent stuff here (in this case, familiarity breeds respect) but the less recognisable songs keep bringing me back. Guess that means it’s a winner. – The Barman
13th STREET ACID MIX b/w WINDOWS OF TIME (EXTENDED MIX) – Kevin K and The Real Kool Kats (In Cold Blood)
It’s not on vinyl as far as I know so it’s not reviewed in the Singles Bar. It’ll be dubbed a CD single until we’re told otherwise and it might be the strangest release to come out of the should-be hit factory that is Kevin K.
The title tune is an acid house (!) take on the title track of Kevin K’s winning album from New York’s mean streets, and it sounds like it was packaged up for the Eurotrash market. Pictures of sneering French leather freaks getting down in some dank Lyon disco spring to mind. It might just be the strangest thing to sit in the I-94 Bar’s rotel for many a day. The second track is more typically Kevin K, although running it out to 4mins is stretching it. – The Barman
ADDICTION Kevin K and the Real Kool Kats (Lollipop)
With Australian label Vicious Kitten no more, someone Down Under has to fly the flag for Kevin K, a true standard bearer for the New York Bowery music scene and someone with something to say. That Mr K does so with feet variously planted in his old stamping ground of New York City, his sometime home of Florida, occasionally Japan and, more often than not, Europe, with various local backing bands in tow, is an indictment of the wider musical world rather than an indicator of a guy with severe wanderlust.
"Addiciton" might throw up a few familiar themes (the loss of the Bowery scene and some notable punk rockers, cautionary tales of smack and having a good time not all at the same time, and more about all that later). It's also Kevin's strongest album to date (though I've still not heard "Sealed Works" so maybe a verdict is premature). His French band, The Real Kool Kats, sound as tough as last week's steak Provencal with the guitars mixed right up front. Shining through, however, is an innate sense of melody (apparent ever since Mr K was a Road Vulture, it must be said) that lifts it all above the level of your bog standard guitar rock.
So does Kevin's sense of humour, from the Dante's Inferno-themed CD slick (wall-to-wall skeletons) to the portrait of St Jude (patron saint of Lost Causes) inside. The four dinner table skeletons (variously tagged as Stiv, Johnny, Dee Dee and Jerry Nolan) on the inner tray give the game away if you haven't twigged by now.
NYC's musical decline and drugs are the overriding themes. On the former, "Whores of Babylon" borrows lines from some of the great tunes of the NY punk scene with a lyrical reminder ("What a time/What a place/Changed the world/From their space") that most of what remains is a pale imitation.
As for the junk well, five originals of the 13 songs (six if you count the title track's reprise) make direct references to The Hard Stuff and that's just in the titles. Not that "Cretin Heroin" tells anyone to go out and hit up the stuff (and "Lethal Injection" is a pounding surf intro, al la Thunders' pipeline). Then again, there's the sole cover a stinging take on the Heartbreakers' "One Track Mind" (and we know what sort of tracks were on THEIR collective minds). Without getting all Walter Mitty-ish, it adds some grime via delivers a matter-of-fact warning, rather than a sermon. Airplay was clearly a futile objective anyway.
The Real Kool Kats are pretty much a very good pub band that you or I should be more than happy catching at our local watering hole next weekend. Rhythms are rock solid rather than adorned (much like Niggs Nolan and Reverend Billy Rath) and the guitars grind rather than chug. Kevin K lays down his distinctive vocals underneath, rather than on top of, a heavy, churning mix.
If you detect a note of dismay that the likes of Kevin K (and fellow NYC product Sonny Vincent) have to vacate their spiritual musical homes to make a living, you're correct - but to be honest, it's more a lament that it's not economical for them to haul their arses to Australia for some shows. Putting aside the tyranny of distance, wherever you lay YOUR hat, you can at least buy the CDs and strike a blow for Real Rock and Roll. As far as Kevin K is concerned, if you're a newcomer, this is a great place to start.
KISS OF DEATH Kevin K & the Real Kool Kats (Lollipop Records)
Things have been quiet on the Kevin K front in this part of the world (Australia) since the demise of Vicious Kitten, the Canberra label that was single-handedly instrumental in bringing his music Down Under. French label Lollipop looks to have picked up the slack with "Kiss of Death".
Not sure how Lollipop go for distribution outside of Europe but this is worth going out of your way to track down. It's a typical Kevin K album: Gritty street rock with lots of New York reference points and the omnipresent shadow of Johnny Thunders looming in the background.
For this album, the ex-New York-now-Florida-based, globetrotting Mr K teams with a bunch of French players (he seems to be a bigger deal on the Continent and in Japan than in his homeland). No sign of Parisian Freddy Lynxx - France's pre-eminent Thunders authority - and my fave K backing band remains the engine room from New York's Sour Jazz, but these Frenchies sound (and look) the part.
While I'm over tunes like the opening "Kiss of Death" that compare smack to a femme fatale (and to be honest, the toy syringe keyrings Kevin sells via his website induce a cringe), props have to be grudgingly given after a few listens as the song is a grower. "Ain't It Fun" isn't the expected Dead Boys cover but a vaguely optimistic love song, replete with overt Ramones-style pizza parlour setting. Speaking of the Bruddas, the chugging "Road to Ruin" is an overt trib to NYC's finest and its Burroghsian cut-up of some of their finest lyrics works a treat.
"Do You Wanna Kiss" recalls Kevin's 90s stab at commercial success, the fab and (not overly) polished "Magic Touch", and his poppier moments in the Road Vultures, who came across as a trashy Beatles mutant. It's criminal that the aforementioned "Magic Touch" went nowhere and it's hoped that someone in some musical domain where AOR and high rotation program doesn't rule the roost will give this tune a decent airing. We live in hope.
There's more often than not a defining cover song on a Kevin K album to expose his influences and the selection here is a fine swinging take on "These Boots Are made for Walking". It teams Kevin with someone called Bea Superstar who contributes suitably Nancy Sinatra-like vocals and closes the album with some squawling Thunderesque guitar. Cool. - The Barman
PS - If you're looking for back catalogue, Australia's Laughing Outlaw has picked up the Vicious Kitten stock or try Kevin's US website.
13th STREET - Kevin K (Vicious Kitten)
ARBEIT MACHT FREI - Kevin K with Sour Jazz (13th Street Entertainment)
Kevin K ought to be huge: Think Stonesy street punk, imbued with the outlaw attitude (and sometimes lyrical obessions) of Johnny Thunders, with whom Mr K used to knock around. Temper those elements with some spiky melodies and you're halfway there. His last album (and first for Canberra's Vicious Kitten) "Magic Touch" was a grimy masterpiece. This one lacks some of its poignancy and more measured moments, but it's not far behind.
Backed by Germans Chris Lakriz (bass) and Andi Hill (drums) and recorded in Deutschland over four days in May 2001, it's up and energetic, brimful of the main man's roaring, full-throated guitar, and full of stories about lost love and Kevin's hometown of New York City. More specifically, the Lower East Side. "Son of Sam" (not the Dead Boys song) reprises the killer of the same name, while "New York City (Can't Look Back)" reflects on junkiedom, lost friends and Max's Kansas City, ultimately bidding them all goodbye. "13th Street" runs parallel to the Dictators' "Avenue A", at least lyrically, and bemoans the gentrification of their neighborhood: "No more dope or coke/Fun around here". Call me a self-interested wimp - this tourist will take high-priced souvenirs over a mugging any time - but I know where they're coming from. Even rockers with street time have to pay the rent.
"Jennifer Love" is a hospital bed paen to the celeb while "Heartbroken Again", written by Kevin's late brother Alan, is a bluesy rave-up that Johnny T might have recorded, had he cleaned up and hooked up with musicians rather than scumbags in New Orleans. The Heartbreakers' "Too Much Junkie Business" is a faithful tribute. "Scissors" is a risque little song from the Road Vultures, who were the band originally populated by Kevin and Alan K, and done to fine effect. "Sundown" (partly inspired by High Plains Drifter) chugs along on ther back of an interesting guitar phrase.
Culled from shows at the Continental on St Mark's Place in September and December 2000, "Arbeit Macht Frei" is a live work-out with Kevin K's NY band, the rhythm section of Sour Jazz, Mark Rubenstein (bass) and Splat Fitzgerald (drums), plus producer Patrick K on extra guitar. A mix of older solo material and Road Vultures tunes, it motors along nicely.Similar themes (girls, drugs, misadventures) and the biggest Thunders cop you ever did hear in "Hook Me Up". You also get covers of "Ramblin's Rose" and Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now".
Some of the guitar's a little thin in parts but that's a quibble. If you like Kevin K, you need to drop 13th Street Entertainment a line and grab this. - The Barman
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