Big Kenny - Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farmboy
By: Bobby Peacock
Big Kenny goes way back. Way back to 1999, when he was on Hollywood Records. He had a full album in the can, but although one track showed up on a film soundtrack, Live a Little went unreleased until after he joined John Rich in Big & Rich. After one great album, a good album and a mediocre one, Big & Rich is on hiatus, leaving both halves of the duo to fend for themselves. John Rich already put out Son of a Preacher Man earlier this year, scoring a semi-hit with "Shuttin' Detroit Down," and now it's Big Kenny's turn again.
The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy is the kind of album that grabs a hold of the listener and takes him on a strange journey full of musical twists and turns, each track providing something markedly different than the one before it but still holding together as a coherent piece of work. It's a bit more subdued than Live a Little, more on par with the dynamic of Big & Rich's Horse of a Different Color and almost as consistently well-written.
"Wake Up!" starts off with some truly bizarre, almost Native American chant that segues into a fairly traditional mid-tempo about chasing one's dreams, only to lapse into a very Big & Rich-esque chorus of "na na na"s (which are handed over to a children's chorus at the end). It's a bit of a bizarre listen, but despite the musical gewgaws, the uplifting message is still unmistakable. After it comes the first single, "Long After I'm Gone," a surprisingly mainstream track with a very common theme of leaving behind some sort of legacy — to say nothing of the rural imagery in the first verse. While plenty of others have done this kind of song in the past, it's hard not to enjoy "Long After I'm Gone," especially if you're aware of the many ways in which he has helped those in need. "Be Back Home" also rehashes a great deal of country-boy tropes, but it has a charming back-porch picking and highly charming vocal turn that make its sound truly refreshing.
Messages of inspiration also turn up in "Less Than Whole," which borders on a country-gospel song at times. "To Find a Heart" begins with fairly pedestrian lines about getting back up after falling down and searching to find love, but its easygoing groove wouldn't be out of place on a Vince Gill album. "Happy People" is nothing short of infectious, with exactly the kind of "good time energy" of which he's singing — even though it doesn't have much to say, it says it well, and it's hard not to smile when he sings about simple happiness. Similarly, the album's closer is a simple plea to "share the love," with a happy, sing-along chorus that goes down easily without leaving behind a saccharine aftertaste.
Big Kenny has a deep, strong, crooning swagger, even if he does have a tendency toward the occasional idosyncratic pronunciation or turn of phrase (at times, I'm reminded of Nick Bakay voicing Norbert on The Angry Beavers). He can more than hold his own on the moody power ballad "Go Your Own Way," even if he has to fight over a string section in the latter half. "Drifter" goes just a little over the top in the second verse, but the rest of the tightly-written song makes up for it — well, until the strangely filtered coda, that is. "Free Like Me" has a dark, haunting sound to it; anchored by a bluesy slide guitar and organ, it is easily the most downbeat song on the album, but still a winner.
The lyrics are lean and, while not terribly original, are far from cliché, and the constantly changing musical terrain only makes the whole album all the more engaging. Considering that Big Kenny is known for being the wilder half of Big & Rich, the album's theme is surprisingly introspective, no matter what's going on behind Kenny's voice. With Big & Rich fresh off a Greatest Hits album (after only three studio albums!), it would not be surprising if Big Kenny and John Rich went their separate ways — indeed, this album proves that Big Kenny has the goods to stand on his own, no matter how crowded the market.