The guitar tone hits you right away, a beautiful, rich, clear, thick sound, perfectly suited for the arpeggios being plucked. With allusions to “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the lyrics, Scott Kempner is lost in the political wilderness, wondering what has happened to the American Dream. “Beyond The Pale” is a search for answers that never come, except in the hint given from his use of the pronoun “we,” implying that what has happened did not simply come from above. Those who have suffered allowed it to happen, in some way.
The rest of the album transfers the political to the personal, as Kempner explores sin and salvation, at least as embodied in lust and love. In the 1970s, Kempner was the rhythm guitarist in uber-ironic rock parodists the Dictators; in the ’80s, he led proto-Americana band the Del-Lords (who updated Blind Alfred Reed’s “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live” two decades prior to Bruce Springsteen). While he wore a smirk on his face in the former band, and his heart on his sleeve in the latter, for this first solo release since 1992′s Tenement Angels, Kempner seeks comfort while acknowledging the pain he’s caused.
Three songs stand out: “Saving Grace”, in which he sings to the woman he needs to forgive his transgressions, while letting his guitar solo embody redemption; “Stolen Kisses”, a rocker that makes sex sound both seedy and exhilarating; and the magnificent album-ender “Shadows Of Love”, which ties Kempner’s pain at the end of his relationship to the Four Tops (and briefly the Supremes), who taught him this was what he had to expect — both the suffering and the joy before it.