Working with members of the Two Dollar Pistols and the now-defunct Houston Brothers, Kenny Roby tickles the standard rock ‘n’ roll five-piece with drum loops, glockenspiels, creative percussion and synthesizers on his fourth post-6 String Drag release. The results take a modern-pop zig where the roots-rock he’s been associated with for the past decade might have zagged.
The Mercy Filter is tuneful and been-beat-down wise throughout, but it begins an extended, late-album peak with “Evidently You”, which has the kind of warm cello-rock flow that hasn’t gotten Ron Sexsmith on the radio either. “On The Wind”, with its joyous bounce of a chorus, is as close to a power-pop song as Roby has ever written, or maybe it’s an E Street Band anthem as reimagined by the Kinks.
“Foot Soldier” starts with genuine ache showing in Scott McCall’s country-soul guitar before giving way to a melody apparently put on earth to stir the soul when the mind’s in torment. And “The Committee” is an extended metaphor for feeling like you’ve lost control of your life, with pointy-headed suits sitting smugly in the conference room of the mind calling the shots before giving way to tiny back-perching monkeys. Farfisa organ, handclaps, and a cathartic fourth-verse cuss serve to balance the heavy and the light.
Fleshing out The Mercy Filter sonically might have been a team effort, but the words on it feel deeply personal. Passing through these thirteen songs are despair and disease countered by relief and recovery, along with searches for identity and strength, and maybe even some form of salvation. The optimism that drives the song “New Day” — and the frequently thrilling musical adventures that drive the entire album — suggests Roby has found what he was looking for.