It’s been five years to the day since Welcome To Ashley put out Beyond The Pale and I heard Coley Kennedy’s voice for the first time. I’ve counted myself as a fan ever since, be it with WTA or his more recent work with The Buddies. His voice has a quality that just holds your interest. He could be singing about making pasta or some other completely mundane thing and it would be entirely captivating. Now he’s back with Black Vincent, a new project that touches some of the same themes as his other albums in a more somber way.
Teardrop Deluxe hits a lot of highs with these downers, but never as high as the third track, “When We Was Young.” The spare echo-y guitar that opens and closes the song feels like a solitary man walking through the desert. When that instrument is joined by voices singing in harmony as the song picks up steam it’s like he’s found an oasis of acceptance. That feeling is fleeting, though, as the voices fade away and the lone guitar continues until the song goes down over the horizon.
On “Smilin’ Jim Is Down Again” Kennedy changes up the vocals for a Bowie-esque delivery. There’s a great mix of piano and electric guitar that clash against one another to add to the peculiarity of the tune. It’s almost like a dream sequence, reaching a fever pitch when the piano-guitar combo meets in the middle and shakes the whole thing down to the ground.
Recorded to tape over a three-day period in Nashville, the album doesn’t sound like anything else Kennedy has been a part of despite featuring a lot of the same players. The usually energetic frontman slows things way down and allows the songs to survive in a vast space. Producers Justin Collins and Adam Landry use that space to create an atmosphere of nostalgic longing throughout all nine tracks.
After years of fast-paced songs that felt like a mix of punk and country, this is not what I was expecting from Kennedy at this point. Like Beck releasing Sea Change, it’s a complete 180 from the usual. And also like Sea Change, that’s a good thing. The album has some heavy moments, like the final minute or so of “Her Love,” with crashing cymbals landing all over the place, but for the most part it’s a measured piece that allows the listener to come to it rather than being in your face.
I can’t say that one is necessarily better than the other, but Teardrop Deluxe is certainly a welcome change of pace. Like a lot of people, I appreciate when musicians grow along with their audience, and when Kennedy sings “I soldier on until I’m numb. You’ve made your move, I’m done,” I know that he’s faced his hard times over the last five years, as we all have.
You can check out the full album on Black Vincent’s bandcamp page. It’s also available for physical purchase as a CD for $12 (digital is $7 but then you don’t get liner notes and artwork).
Coley Kennedy – Voice
Justin Collins – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Pete Javier – Guitars
Scott Collins – Guitars, Vocals
Jeremy Barrett – The Bass Guitar
Adam Landry – The Drums, Keys
Kim Collins – Vocals, Toms
The Buddies are one of my favorite Chiacgo bands. Above that, they are one of the best live bands I’ve seen and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When I was offered the opportunity to premiere their new music video, I jumped at the chance.
One thing I live about the Eric and Ryan Henriquez-directed clip is that it captures the fun side of the group. The video is a throw back to the party videos of the 80’s, bringing to mind the “Fight For Your Right” video by The Beastie Boys.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year and a half since the first and only time I saw Welcome To Ashley perform. It was one of my first assignments as a writer, and the show just blew me away. Coley Kennedy and company were so much more than I imagined they would be on stage. The only thing I had to go on was their most recent record, Beyond The Pale. The release is one that I thought a great deal of at the time. It ended up making my list of top Chicago music for 2010. Then, as quickly as they entered my life, they vanished. I got a email from Coley saying that the band was taking a indefinite hiatus due to personal matters, but he was continuing with another project, The Buddies.
The Buddies, basically, is Welcome To Ashley minus drummer Sherrlia Bailey. Add in three Collins’, Scott and Justin on guitar and Scott’s wife Kim on drums. Their sound is definitely more country/southern rock-influenced, but they bring the same energy. Now, through a cruel twist of fate, Kim Collins is the one with a need for time away. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and the band immediately rallied around her. They’ve set up a fundraising website where you can donate money (they reached their goal of $10,000 but that’s no reason to stop giving) to help with medical bills/living expenses. And Friday night, with the fundraiser coming to a close, Welcome To Ashley will take the stage once more.
Revisiting the album in preparation for their return, I find it interesting that I enjoy the songs more now than I did 18 months ago. Instead of focusing on this or that trying to write a review of it, I can allow it to just wash over me. The music is better than I remembered, and the lyrics are still strong. There are a lot of highlights and no excess synths or musical interludes to get in the way. It is very much the album Morrissey might have made if he were a punk rocker.
The album doesn’t really do them justice, though. The live show is where they really explode. Coley is a frontman’s frontman. He’s all attitude and spastic movement up there. As far as straight up performers to watch, he’s definitely one of my favorites. Guitarist Pete Javier is also a joy to see doing his thing. His guitar work doesn’t always stand out on record, but in front of a crowd he really comes alive. Check out the song “These Dreams Of Mine” off Beyond The Pale, then watch the video that I captured that night at Empty Bottle to see what I mean.
So Friday night, do yourself a favor and come support a great cause. Tickets are only $5, and the show is at Township (which used to be Pancho’s). I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend an evening. Also playing is Fly Over State and Pistols At Dawn.
Empty Bottle has often been a place of discovery for me. The first time I passed through that entry way, it was to see The Yeah Yeah Yeahs the spring before Fever To Tell dropped. Subsequent visits introduced me to acts such as Neutral Uke Hotel, Angel Olsen, Silverghost, and on this night, The Dirty Pigeons. To go along with that discovery, there were a couple familiar faces; namely The Canoes and The Buddies.
I first met The Canoes over the summer. Their record, Roger, was sent to me a while back. I loved it. They played a show at Bottom Lounge in the Volcano Room that was tremendous. They even played a cover of “Alison Road” by the Gin Blossoms just for me. I was excited to see them again.
They didn’t disappoint. The Teller boys were singing their hearts out, and Sam was kicking it in the drums like a champ. They played a new tune, which I think was called “Momses,” but I could most definitely be wrong. It was pretty sweet, but not as good as my favorite song of theirs which they closed their set with, “American English.”
After The Canoes finished up, we got a bit of a treat: Coley asked Kari to take some shots of the band down in the green room. A great honor for her, as she’s still learning the ins and outs of serious photography, but manages to come up with amazing shots every time we hit a show. It was great for me because I got to hang out down there where Nick Zinner and countless other brilliant musicians have relaxed before shows.
Everyone in the band was beyond nice. Very gracious that we liked their band and had nice words for them. Kari took some shots and I stood off to the side, watching the group try to come up with different poses. It was clear from this peek behind the curtain that they get along famously. It was nice to feel like part of the group for a bit, but eventually Kari finished up and we went back up to the stage area where Dirty Pigeons were already more than halfway through their set.
Have you heard of Dirty Pigeons? I had, very briefly, heard something about them being pretty good. Watching them, I was shocked how right whoever told me that was. Their guitarist/vocalist is ridiculously talented. He shreds in a way that reminds me of Neil Young and sings with a confident voice. I grabbed one of their free CDs, but I haven’t had a chance to listen yet. If you have the time, check them out!
After that set it was time for the main event. We saw The Buddies back in September I think, at Double Door. That was the bands first show in Chicago, and it was a scorcher. They burned up the stage like a Great White concert. This time it was a little more laid back, but still awesome.
There aren’t a lot of bands that can simultaneously sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Replacements, but The Buddies don’t much care for genre specificity. The Collins’ that made up Nashville’s Pale Blue Dot lend some southern charm to Coley’s punk singer/songwriter aesthetic and the result is a sound perfect for an evening of drinking that may or may not end in bloodshed.
Coley Kennedy is a frontman’s frontman. He knows all the tricks and moves to make him a god on stage. But my favorite moments were when he took a step back, watching Scott and Justin Collins with Pete Javier jamming on their guitars while Kim Collins and Jeremy Barrett laid down the beat. It was in these spots where I felt he was having the most fun, relishing the knowledge that he’s put together a band of amazing musicians.
One thing I’ve always liked about Coley, and this goes back to when he fronted Welcome To Ashley, is that he takes it seriously. A lot of musicians think its cool to seem aloof, or like they’re better than everyone else. He and his band work hard and practice to be as good they can, and they show it on stage. There isn’t a lot of messing around, it’s just balls to the wall rock and roll. The Buddies are exactly the kind of band you go somewhere like Empty Bottle to see.
The last time I saw Coley Kennedy was in August of last year. I was at Empty Bottle watching his band Welcome To Ashley perform so I could review the show for my old writing job. I was blown away by the power and magnetism of Kennedy on stage, and I was looking forward to seeing the band over and over. That dream was shattered about six months later when I learned that the band had decided to take a break for a while. Coley continued on with fellow WTA members Jeremy Barrett and Pete Javier (not credited on the record, but performing at Double Door) and hooked up with Nashville band Pale Blue Dot to form The Buddies.
This headlining spot at Double Door acted as the band’s record release show for their debut self-titled album. I’ve had a copy of this for some time now, and I’ve listened to it off and on leading up to a bunch of spins in the days before the show, and the thing that surprised me most is how dissimilar to Welcome To Ashley it sounds. Lyrically Kennedy touches on a lot of the same themes, but musically it’s a complete 180, hitting varied genres like bluegrass, country, glam rock, and punk. Most of that is due to Justin and Scott Collins, the guitar playing brothers from Pale Blue Dot.
Initially when I saw two guitarists plus Pete, I thought it was going to be a bit tough to appease everyone on stage, but they did a really great job of switching off back and forth between rhythm and lead, often each playing multiple parts in the same song. Of the three, I think Justin came out with the best licks (at least I think it’s Justin-the one that looks like a young Eric Roberts UPDATE: This has been confirmed). His straight-ahead, no bullshit approach to guitar playing was refreshing and he was also able to provide some great backing vocals.
Also proving quite good was Kim Collins on drums and also accordion. Her percussion was fantastic all night with a blasting kick drum that kept everyone in step. The only problem I had with her performance was that her vocals were completely drowned out. I could see her mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear her at all. Not her fault, of course. I find the accordion to be a most confusing instrument, and one difficult to learn. She played it very well on the couple songs that needed it, and at the end she did prove that she has a good voice as she took a solo that made the room swoon.
And then there’s Coley…a man who seems to be more comfortable on stage than off. If you read my review of the WTA show that I went to, you know that he’s a bolt of lightning up there. He came out in a fitting Replacements shirt under his blazer, which he somehow managed to wear the whole show even though I’m sure it was soaked with sweat. I like guys like Coley who just go balls out for the entire length of a show. It’s impressive for a couple reasons, the biggest being he’s the lead singer. He’s got to remember all the lyrics to every song while flailing around the stage like a madman. It was nice to see him in his element again.
Highlights from the show for me were the songs “Let’s Get Happy,” “Kathleen, Please Come Home,” and “The Admiral.” This is personal preference, of course, but I thought that of the songs on the record, these were the most representative of the sound during the show. For the final song everyone came up and they sang the song “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday,” which reminds me of a Irish folk ballad, in perfect harmony. It was a great finale to an awesome set.
After the show I went to say goodbye to Coley and he was telling me how hard it is to describe the sound that The Buddies achieve to people who ask what kind of music they play. That’s true. It’s a difficult thing to put into words. You know how Springsteen manages to bring Woody Guthrie and Sam and Dave together somehow? It isn’t exactly like that, but it’s a hybrid of many things that come together to create a almost southern rock version of The Clash. It really is hard to explain.
Another thing I learned from our brief discussion is that the band doesn’t rehearse. Coley lives up here in Chicago and the Collins’ live in Nashville, so the lyrics are written and then sent to the rest of the band to put music to. It sounds kind of crazy, but Coley told me he feels like this groups chemistry is off the charts. I have to agree with him. I think you’ll agree, too, if you give it a shot. Download the self-titled record here.