Kenny Roby, Sam the Lion

Kenny Roby’s life in music has gone from a musical journey to an odyssey, an intellectual and spiritual quest in which he has explored a wide array of musical styles and genres, absorbing them all and incorporating them into his art. Charting the continuum of that journey takes us to “Memories & Birds,” Roby’s latest album, an ambitious vision of a Southern past littered with provocative characters and the dark and forboding places they inhabit.

An artist of considerable breadth and depth, Roby is a seasoned veteran of the music world, a talented and skilled vocalist, instrumentalist, producer, writer and performer. Raised in a musical family in upstate South Carolina, he was exposed to music from an early age. As a child, he mined his parents’ record collection, discovering the likes of Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, Patsy Cline, Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Sons of the Pioneers and a host of Broadway musicals and soundtracks. He also witnessed many performances of his father, a barbershop and church choir bass vocalist and choir director and his brother and sisters who also performed in church and school choirs. His older brother turned Kenny on to a treasure trove of popular music from the ’60s and ’70s, everything from the rhythm and blues of Motown and Memphis to the Beatles and the British Invasion. When he began buying records on his own as a pre-teen, his musical interests became limitless. They remain so today.

The music of his early childhood had a profound impact on Roby but he was also very impressed by discoveries he made on his own at an early age. In his late elementary school years he discovered early rap, modern soul and harder rock. In junior high school he began to delve into more hardcore rap such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions and began to explore reggae and punk rock. He continued to explore the roots and masters of reggae, American roots music, songwriters, blues, soul, rock and roll, country, punk rock, hardcore, contemporary rock acts and off the road acts such as Tom Waits throughout high school.

Roby’s quest took another turn when he joined the high school punk rock group the Lubricators at age 15. It was with the Lubricators that he first demonstrated his promise as a charismatic and entertaining performer and front man. He and the Lubricators moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 1991, but the band broke up two years later. That’s when Roby formed 6 String Drag, which began as an American-roots band with a fan base in the Carolinas, then quickly grew into a regional sensation throughout the Southeast and eventually throughout the US and beyond. Their 1997 album “High Hat” was released to tremendous national critical acclaim. The album was co-produced by Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy and released on Earle’s Warner Brothers imprint label E-Squared.

While with 6 String Drag, Roby’s artistic exploration bordered on outright musicology. As he discovered new musicians, he delved into their roots, tracing their influences back as far as the early 20th century and beyond. He also threw himself into modern American music at a deeper level and was greatly influenced by Doug Sahm, The Band, Ray Charles, the musical pantheon of New Orleans, and classic country.

Roby continued to hone his songwriting skills and became attracted to and influenced by songwriters such as Randy Newman and Townes Van Zandt, whose work made their dark characters come alive with compelling and often humorous and ironic narratives. When 6 String Drag broke up in 1998, Roby went solo and released three excellent but vastly different solo records: Mercury’s Blues (1999), Rather Not Know (2003) and The Mercy Filter (2006).

“Memories & Birds” was recorded between December 2011 and April 2012 and shows Roby as an artist continuing to mature and evolve. A dark, often lonely and very human record, “Memories & Birds” is filled with surprising twists and turns, shadowy corners and broken dreams. The provocative characters and the narrative thread running throughout this complex eight-song cycle evoke the stark imagery and themes of Faulkner, O’Connor, Percy and McCarthy.

These are song-stories of loss, isolation, desire, rejection, resignation, despair, aging, anxiety. There’s the young boy, “The Craziest Kid Around,” discovering the mysterious world around him and the colorful and often dangerous and conflicted characters within that world. When the craziest kid becomes a dark, defeated and criminal adult in “Colorado,” he says, “I ain’t the worst man you’ve ever known/But I’d be willing to make a bet/that every devil here ain’t born full grown/And we ain’t met all of ‘em yet”. There’s the woman trapped in the pain and despair of a loveless marriage to a returned war veteran in “Tired Of Being In Love”: “I know I can be simple/Simple used to get it done (oh it used to be enough for you)/I lay alone in bed inside his head/After dinner served for one (so alone).” In “A Short Mile” the husband confesses” “I know I’m breakin’ you/I can see it in your smile/I’m the wrong man to ride the short mile.”

Musically, “Memories & Birds” covers a wide range of Roby influences. There’s the Motown meet 60’s pop shuffle of “Tired of Being In Love,” the Townes Van Zandt rhythm and almost cowboy meets 50's crooner vocals of “Craziest Kid Around,” and the lazy afternoon breeze of New Orleans in the title track. With a layered mix of strings and horns and background singers, each song on “Memories & Birds” is a new and pleasant surprise.

“Memories & Birds” was engineered by Jason Merritt, with additional recording by Kenny Roby and Scott McCall. The album was co- produced by Kenny Roby and Jason Merritt.



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