My only question is this: When does Todd Kerns sleep?
Seriously. This guy has been touring with Slash and Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. When he’s not doing that, he’s playing with Sin City Sinners out in Vegas. And somewhere in all of this he writes, records, produces, and releases not just a solo album but a full-length solo album with an accompanying EP– Borrowing Trouble and Near Life Experience, respectively.
I feel like I’m doing well if I can get through the day with both my shoes on the correct feet. Hell, I don’t even think I have time to talk about both of these albums in one review. So I’m going to focus my energies on Borrowing Trouble here, and I’ll tell you more about Near Life Experience in next week’s column.
Borrowing Trouble is an acoustic, stripped-down sound, not so heavy in the instrumentation but very heavy in the lyrical content. When I say this is a solo album, I mean solo. For the most part, this is a man, a voice, and a guitar. There are some backing vocals on various tracks from Cian Coey, Kurt Frolich (who also engineered and mixed two tracks), Claude Erfon, Doc Ellis, and fellow Sinner Zachary Throne. Rob Cournoyer, also of Sin City Sinners, provides percussion.
But despite the presence of his Vegas compatriots, this album not party time. It’s more like a look into the mind of someone engaged in deep personal struggles and the trials of day-to-day living. At the same time it’s intensely satisfying to see a musician of Kerns’ caliber branching out into such a uniquely personal project and executing it with polish and enthusiasm.
Without getting too psychoanalytical here (I’m not qualified), I do think it’s also germane to mention the album is dedicated to the memory of Kerns’ close friend Greg Verdusco, who died in 2012. Kerns mentions on his website that Verdusco influenced him to take the plunge and record this album, but I’d also speculate that such a profound personal loss also colors the level of introspection contained in this recording.
Kerns also cites Johnny Cash– especially Cash’s later work– as a strong source of inspiration in creating the intimate mood of the recording. He’s certainly achieved a high level of intimacy and personal connection here, and you can also find Cash’s influence in the dark, sometimes biting, tone of many of the lyrics. The songs are driven by acoustic guitar, and the vocals are beautiful and raw in a way that does make you feel like Kerns is at least in the same room, if not right next to you.
Track Listing and preview:
1) Nothing Personal– The most up-tempo track on the album with guitar-driven sound. I also like that the chorus seems to reference one of my favorite lines from The Godfather, but I tend to see Godfather references everywhere. It’s a sickness.
2) The Devil in Me– Slower tempo. Less catchy than the first track, but also more depth in the lyrics.
3) The Maker– The only cover on the album; the original was written and recorded by fellow-Canadian Dennis Lanois.
4) This Changes Everything– Driving tempo again here, with an an almost anthemic sound in the chorus, helped by the backing vocal talents of Coey and Thorne.
5) It’s Always Been You– Bittersweet love song, and an interesting progression from the previous track lyrically. Check the liner notes and see what I mean.
6) Hey Summer– Changes in the face of loss. Possibly also a reference to life in the far northern hemisphere, where we’re still waiting for summer to arrive in late June.
7) Hideous– Cournoyer’s percussion on this track adds an ominous tone, as if the lyrics didn’t cover that already.
8) So Close, So Far
9) So Scandalous-- Cheerful guitar strumming and lyrics about illicit love, but in a good way.
11) Come Back to Bed
12) You Can Always Go Home– Here’s where the personal aspects of the lyrics seem to get thrown into sharpest relief– the isolation of living in the desert while the northern lights are calling you. Written by a Canadian living in Las Vegas. But I’m not going to read too much into that.
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