Thursday, September 24, 2009
Kermit Lynch's album "Man's Temptation": a review
Kermit Lynch's first album seemed like a lark, a wine importer following a lifelong dream. Now he's done another, "Man's Temptation," so is it time to take him seriously as a musician?
Maybe. Lynch is smart enough, and has a good enough wine cellar, to have lined up a stellar list of mostly alt-country session musicians for this Nashville-recorded album. This makes his voice, by design, the weak link.
But in most cases, it's his only link. Unlike his first album "Quicksand Blues," on which he wrote all the songs, Lynch wrote just 3 of the 12 songs on this album and adapted two others. So he's coming at us not as a wine importer with a notebook full of thoughts, but as a singer.
Fortunately, even without the involvement of Boz Scaggs, his friend who put together the band on his first disc, "Man's Temptation" is a well-balanced, easy-to-drink-in alt-country album that's a little harsh on the intro but has a nice gentle finish.
In fact, I've been playing it in the background when friends are over drinking wine, and each time they've asked, "What is that album? I like it." Its judicious, intuitive instrumentals and absence of sharp edges make it an disc that's easy to keep going back to.
There are times when Lynch really comes through vocally. He sounds genuinely lonely on the hillbilly sway hymn "Rank Stranger," which might be the best song on the album.
He also has the courage to take on a song made famous by Patsy Cline, changing the gender to "Why Can't She Be You," and pulls it off because his voice is so plaintive. It's ironic that a guy who has dedicated his life to pleasure does his very best singing on songs of lamentation.
At the other end, the musicians here are so good that there are moments when if I could mix down Lynch's voice, I would. Specifically, the Carter Family song "Bear Creek" has such pretty guitar playing by George Marinelli, Michael Spriggs and album producer Ricky Fataar that Lynch is out of his league. That said, it is amusing to hear him nearly choke while trying to sing "It tastes like cherry wine," as if those last two words hurt.
You have to have patience with this disc because the first track, "Gare de Lyon," is the worst. I'm not sure what Lynch was shooting for with these lyrics, but he comes off like a guy with a hip-hop ego. He sings that he's in a Paris railway station, fine, but not for his day job: "I'm on my way to the next concert stage." Then a little later, "Well the whole town loves me/They come to my shows/They clap and they stomp and my audience grows."
What's next: I got a gat/in the back/of my ice-crusted Cadillac?
But you leave the train station and the album settles in for a smooth ride. There are points when Lynch is good enough to make you forget that this isn't his day job: the weary ending to the title track, the muscular bar-band sounding "Buckle-Up Boogie."
On the whole, I like "Man's Temptation" and think I'll be playing it at gatherings for a while. But please don't give up your day job, Kermit: we all like the wines too much for that.
Kermit Lynch is performing a one-time-only concert of this album on Oct. 7 in San Francisco, with a menu designed by Alice Waters and wine from his portfolio. I saw his one show for the last album and it was a blast; we danced and noshed and drank with the San Francisco fooderati. That said, it's $125, so use your own judgment. Click here for more information.