kevin k - The I-94 Bar
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kevin K has been plying this trade for 40 years and almost as many albums. His latest American crew, The Krazy Kats, are in synch with his modus operandi of gritty but melodic rock and roll.
As the title reveals, Kevin's latest studio album takes a generous leaf out of the New York Dolls book while slyly alluding to his longtime adopted home of Florida.
Kevin K was always going to end up back on Rankoutsider, the label run by ex-Lazy Cowgirls frontman Pat Todd. Like Todd’s current band, The Rank Outsiders, the label specialises in down-to-earth, streetwise rock and roll music - of which Kevin K is the embodiment.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that there’s a distinctive Kevin K Sound: It’s no frills, guitar-laden punk rock, with a very tough edge, informed by life in the dives and gutters of New York City’s Lower East Side. Kevin’s plaintive vocal sits oddly but comfortably with the gritty sound of his bands.
CBGB is, of course, no more. It’s a designer clothing store run by Detroit old boy John Varvatos.
At this point, permit me a personal aside.
No matter how many times the new owner’s rock and roll cred and commitment to “tastefully” preserving elements of the old club on The Bowery are thrown at me, I can’t come to terms with this particular march of progress.
My own CBGB experiences may have only been as a beer-swilling tourist living vicariously through the sounds of those on-stage, but turning a rock and roll hovel into a shop selling $300 T-shirts will only get you so far.
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".
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.
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.
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’.
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 the last part of 2008 and most of '09.
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.
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.
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.