I first heard of Thomas Kivi when he was opening for Jason Myles Goss here in Chicago, alongside his bandmate Sarah Pray. They traded lead vocals back and forth, playing songs off both of their solo albums and a couple covers. They had good chemistry together, and their voices fit together very well. Kivi’s first album, Crying Child, is good-very precious at times. There’s a lot to like in his material, especially “I Just Work Here,” a tirade against people who go through life like zombies.
On his new album with The Immigrants, there is a greater sense of joy and optimism. There are some instances of sly wordplay and ideas that put a smile on my face throughout the record. There are also times when the album comes off a bit pious, but I’d rather Kivi be upfront about it like he is than try to mask it under rambling symbolism. The music is good, and that’s more important to me.
The record is five songs, and there are two that really stand out to me. The first track, “Cops And Crims,” has a lot of great elements to it. The song plays completely different than anything else in this collection, giving off more of a rock vibe. There’s some great electric guitar work by John Peters who takes full advantage of his only opportunity. Kivi also gets full use out of drummer Dan DeMuth, who apparently plays drums for 75% of all Minneapolis-based bands.
The other song that I really like, maybe even more than “Cops And Crims,” is “Feelin’ Low And Feelin’ High.” This one is the slowest song on the record, and there’s enough beauty in this track to cover a full-length album. Peters returns on this one to add what I think is some lap steel, though it isn’t credited that way so maybe it’s just his guitar. Whatever it is, it sounds amazing, echoing back to Nels Cline on “Sky Blue Sky.” The lyrics are simple, which is what the music calls for here:
“Lay me down where I was born. Lay me down all bruised and worn. Lay me down and love me then. Because I gave you all-you were my friend.”
Kivi himself provides vocals and acoustic guitar to every song, providing the foundation for the others to work from. His voice is sometimes reminiscent of Ryan Adams, other times completely his own. The best example of his craft comes on the final track, “Oslo & Paris,” where it’s just his guitar and voice accompanied by trumpet (Sarah Bodeau) and tambourine. It’s a very sweet love song that acts as a perfect end to the record.
If you like singer/songwriters that sing what they feel honestly, then Thomas Kivi & The Immigrants is probably an album you’d like to hear. His band provides the necessary backing to fill out the songs without getting too ornate and take away from their original intentions. Pray adds mandolin, saxophone, and backup vocals while Al Vorse lays down the bass lines.