“You really need to hear this Kevin Gordon tape. I’ll tell him to get in touch with you.” That’s how it started. Scott Esbeck of Los Straitjackets and I were talking about really good music. A couple of days later I got the Kevin Gordon tape in the mail and I was sold.
“I’ve got something you need to hear,” my friend Karen told me before playing me a couple songs from Kevin Johnson’s CD. I couldn’t wait to hear him live, either; then she said. “He’s playing with Kevin Gordon July 17th at the Sutler.”
Johnson and an abbreviated version of his band, the Linemen (Dave Giegerich on dobro and James Key on mandolin) shone on originals such as the Marshall Crenshaw-like “She Turns Me On”, “Blue Train” and the closer “Buddy Love” (written about Jerry Lewis in the original Nutty Professor movie). The stripped-down Linemen lineup also led to very interesting interpretations of some well chosen covers; an instrumental version of the Beatles “Here, There and Everywhere” and Jimmy Webb’s classic “Wichita Lineman” were the standouts. Johnson has a soulful delivery and is a literate writer whose songs remind me a lot of Crenshaw’s better tunes.
Gordon, meanwhile, is emerging as one of Nashville’s finest roots-rock songwriters. He hit the stage with the blue-collar rocker “Company Car” and followed with “Fast Train” a song he wrote that appaers on rockabilly great Sonny Burgess’ new album. Gordon and his band moved through a solid catalogue that included the Springsteen-style rocker “Evan Pick Up the Line”, th Midwestern heartbreaker “Pauline”, and the dueling guitar rocker “Cadillac Jack’s Number One Son”. After moving on to the more rootsy “Junior’s Guitar” and “Over the Levee”, and the Gwil Owen co-write “Deuce and a Quarter”, Gordon encored a heartfelt take on Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman” and the lighthearted “Chicken Truck”.
Gordon’s voice is as rich as the Mississippi riverbank soil he writes so passionately about, and he works as hard as any of the blue collar heroes in his songs. Esbeck was right: You’ve really got to hear this guy.