The New Year is here. 2014. And we are solidly in the future. Computers in our pockets, on our wrists and even inserted into glasses. But I find that whenever the future settles in, I yearn for something a little older. I desire my roots. If you feel the same, you can head over to Sola Coffee in North Raleigh on Jan. 8 and hear the musical stylings of Kevin Gordon.
Gordon grew up in the South – Louisiana – and a more Southern style of music seems like it would have been an obvious start for this longtime musician. But instead he was drawn to the punk sounds of the ’70s and ’80s.
The Ramones and the Sex Pistols were staples of his early musical career.
“It all kind of made sense to me,” he said of the music. “I had the good fortune of having a good record store.”
But that doesn’t mean his Southern heritage was left behind. Maybe lurking just to the rear of his musical front lines.
“I guess I’d always had an interest in what could be loosely described as roots music, no matter what I might have been into otherwise,” he said.
In Iowa City, where he received a master’s from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the late ’80s, he delved into the roots culture, becoming a “working” musician. He played blues jams before moving on to join a group led by Bo Ramsey. But when Ramsey went by the wayside, Gordon struck out on his own. He moved on to Tennessee in the ’90s and released his first national album, the first of many.
His latest album, Gloryland, is a different animal even than the 2005 album that came before.
“A lot of those songs are image based,” he said of his 2005 album. “They’re moving from one image to another, and it’s not always a very literal thing. It’s just laying pictures on top of each other and trying to create more of a feeling.”
Gloryland, in contrast, is narrative based. Stories set to music.
“I heard a couple of friends of mine in Nashville play what were in that time new songs for them ... playing these long narrative songs that had these pretty simple chord progressions in the verses but seems to allow for longer lines and detail,” he said. “So I kind of took that to heart and went back to the table.”
Gloryland includes stories drawn from personal experience. Songs like “Black Dog,” inspired by a pit bull he rescued. Or “Colfax/Step in Time,” inspired by his time as a kid growing up in Louisiana.
“It was interesting because that was definitely the longest song I had written,” he said of Colfax/Step in Time, which clocks in at just over 10 minutes.
Gordon is just one of many musicians being brought to Sola by John Luther, owner of Sola Cafe. In this case, Gordon arrives via assistance from Ira Planer, of Burriss Amps and Effects Pedals, the NC Hops and Roots Fest, and NC Blues in the School.
Planer’s connection with the coffee shop came about when he was looking for someone to serve coffee at the Hops and Roots Fest. He talked to Luther and learned of his interest in music and in bringing musicians to the shop. Planer even played at the grand opening.
As for Gordon, his booking agent was looking for a gig in Raleigh, and Planer was the connection he needed.
“I love Kevin’s songs and wanted to help him in this area,” Planer said in an e-mail. “It was hard to get him booked on an off night, Wednesday, so I spoke with John about working together to host it at Sola Coffee.”
If you haven’t heard of Gordon, Planer wouldn’t be surprised.
“Kevin, like so many, is one of those “musician’s musicians,” meaning that he is not a household name, but the artists that play his songs are.”
For instance, his song Deuce and a Quarter was recorded by a band that included Keith Richards and Levon Helms. Gordon himself has done duets with people like Lucinda Williams.
His appearance at Sola is part of his current tour. He likes to test out music on the road before people have expectations about how his new work sounds.
“I’m going to start on a new record here in February or March probably,” he said. “Doing a solo tour is always a good time for that.”
If you want a preview of his roots chops, head on out to Sola. Get caffeinated and infused with roots all at the same time.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.