Kai Rutherford – Outsider – Album Review
Over the course of the next couple reviews, we’re going to get right into the music of Kai Rutherford both past & present through two albums he’s only just released this year that have taken nearly two entire decades to finally get their due. In this review here, we’re listening to tracks & melodies of Rutherford’s career through songs he’s reworked and revitalized for his record Outsider, released in the early part of 2016…and later on today we’ll be digging into his follow-up album Running Out Of Time which was released towards the end of this year officially.
It’ll be interesting to hear how Kai’s writing has evolved and grown over such a span of time and what he’s done with his own style of rock as a solo artist. I’ve read about & researched Rutherford’s music about as much as I’ve listened to it…he’s had quite the journey to get here, travelling the world & playing in different bands en route to his final destination as the lone entertainer he is today. Mind you – he’s not entirely alone…many of the tunes on these two releases from Kai Rutherford have been co-written with songwriter Thomas Nessheim.
While it would be difficult to keep one’s art under wraps for years in waiting for the perfect time to record, I think the genuine sincerity of Kai’s connection to his music is also likely stronger as a result. I grew up on many artists & bands that opened the doors for a style like his to exist today; even if these songs were in fact written some time ago, he’s still found the influence of many artists & bands in rock from the Rolling Stones to Springsteen and has pursued what’s become a more classic-sound in music in our modern day. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still fans awaiting a sound like this out there – because absolutely, 100%, there is – the reality is, they just don’t get as much of it anymore. When you examine it from that angle…you start to realize quickly that there’s a lot of opportunity for rock-songs like Kai creates with the people listening out there.
Flexing crisp guitar-riffs and a good-time rock-rhythm, this record begins with its title-track “Outsider” and invites you into the album with a comforting, familiar sound that finds its way to a red-hot chorus that brings up the energy & rock of this first tune. Solid guitar solo from Kai in the middle of “Outsider” – and overall I felt like this track really did come out sounding like a well-incubated idea; perhaps all that time on the shelf has done these songs well. From what we hear in “Outsider” you can hear a smartly crafted rock-song…and from verse to chorus, Kai does a great job of raising-up the intensity and driving this tune towards its memorable first impression.
“Sweet Pain” worried me a bit at first with its similar guitar-chops to “Outsider” slowed-down to a more melodic and accessible pace – but I had to remember that these songs represent a lot of where Kai has been already & not necessarily where he’s going to. Through the solo-work he puts onto the record and songs following, he’ll go on to break-out of his shell even further – but as it stands right now, “Sweet Pain” comes out strongly as the melodic rock song he’s looking to create. Good rumble in the low-end of bass alongside the reliable drumbeat & wild trumpets keep this song in great spirits as it plays and that spacing in the writing of “Sweet Pain” leads to some highlight moments from Kai’s ideas in the vocal melodies and defined ideas he’s put forth for each part as the song plays. Incredible trumpet solo in this tune too…absolutely a highlight moment on this cut.
“Takin’ You Away” had more of that diversity that I was looking for by comparison, and Rutherford starts to depart into more creative & textured atmosphere in his ideas on this third track. Excellent melody in the catchy hook of the chorus, perfectly complimented by backing female vocals that sound wonderful and energetic in contrast to the emotional melancholy of Kai’s lead melody. The vibrant energy in this song really takes hold of you…Kai & his crew have put together a cut that really has a beautifully expressive sound to it…love the free-wheeling piano on “Takin’ You Away” and how it drifts in & out of the spotlight perfectly. Good-time rock with a deeper meaning you can get to if you dig into the lyrics, or you can chant along and sing with the anthem-esque chorus…either way there’s something for everyone to enjoy here on “Takin’ You Away.”
Slowing it right down for the intensity and big-build of the evolution of a real rock-ballad – Kai’s done an exceptional job with “Stay!” For those out there that grew-up in the 70’s/80’s – you know exactly how powerful these moments can be emotionally…and while “Stay!” has a lot of that style in its writing, it’s through its modern-day smoothness in the folk/blues/pop combination that fuels the gentle chorus and its resulting tenderness. The classic build of emotion breaks beautifully into the slow-tempo groove of “Stay!” and Kai delivers a wonderful performance on the mic that matches the mood & atmosphere of the music in all the ways you want him to throughout the entire song with one of his own highlight performances. “Stay!” shows Kai’s music is highly adaptable to all tempos, environments & ideas in rock as he puts on a gorgeous display of an entirely new side of his sound on this tune.
Anything I might have against “Little Man” would all come down to my own personal taste…it’s a bit on the straightforward-side of rock for me – but that being said, it’s fiery-intensity and all-out intention to entertain yields an electrifying performance from Rutherford and a highly energetic tune. This is that kind of rock-music that sends every cougar in the house running claws-out to the dance-floor to snag a partner…certainly nothing wrong with the track, it’s as well-mixed, produced and performed as any on the record and holds that quality standard that Kai has set fixed throughout Outsider…let’s just say it’s more for the people that really love their Van Halen and added theatrics to their rock-music sound.
Now if you’re talking “Little Angel,” then you’re talking something that’s a lot more my speed. I’m a melody guy…a slow song guy…call me whatever you will, I have a much easier time identifying with the sincerity of emotion in a gentle rhythm than I can latch onto the energy of a high-octane rock-song – that’s just who I am. So for me…songs like “Stay!” and “Little Angel” hit the mark on-point; I really dig what Kai can do with slower-tempos. The instrumentation on “Little Angel” has an incredible amount of depth and an equal-caliber range in the vocal-melody we hear. Essentially, there’s not a single moment of this tune I didn’t love – I was a bit unsure of some of the lyricism on this tune, but really, even though a lot of it felt very familiar, it holds right close to the classic nature, style and themes of a great rock-ballad and that’s exactly what “Little Angel” unfolds into being. Fantastic ideas in the backing harmonies, smooth & simple chords on the guitars and a massively strong idea for the vocal-melody lead Kai to victory on “Little Angel” – but let me tell ya…subtle as they may be, those final tones from the guitars as the song fades out are an equally strong highlight, however brief. Lots to love about “Little Angel” – I felt like this one came out with all the sincerity and genuine tones that Kai could possibly supply…it’s organic in its sound and he really makes the magic of music his own on this song.
Dig the bright acoustic rhythms in the guitar on “Don’t Know Her Name” and Kai puts in another solid performance on the microphone throughout the light-rock melody he’s created. Catchy rhythm and groove on this one as well…very danceable once again, lighter in sound & spirit than “Little Man” was but still definitely a tune to bring people to the dance-floor. Kai seems to have an innate ability to create strong good-time rock rhythms that have a nostalgic feeling in their atmosphere while still giving you plenty new to listen to. He’s having FUN playing & performing “Don’t Know Her Name” and it’s the kind of enjoyment you can’t mask – you can hear it.
Every time I heard “Gonna Lay You Down” I got lost right into its hypnotic bass-led groove. Designed to be the sexy-rhythm that it truly is – you could call this audible panty-remover; the way it moves, the way it grooves…each and every moment sounds deadly and ready to get down to do the nasty. Smart combo between the guitar, bass and drums on this track – “Gonna Lay You Down” really moves in the shadows of its sleek low-tones – you can’t help but get caught right up in the atmosphere Kai’s created. Also one of the largest departures from the styles & sounds he’s already put onto Outsider – he’s written a seriously sexual song that’s completely on the mark. Nothing sounds cheesy…it all sounds like it fits…nothing’s awkward…Kai’s clearly comfortable & right at home with the themes of “Gonna Lay You Down” and has zero problems expressing himself in-full all over this tune!
“Living Like A Dead” was the track that might have surprised me the most. While it has many ingredients that threaten to make it an ‘ordinary rock song’ – the way that Rutherford has performed this one with such energy & enthusiasm take it to a much more special place than anything ‘ordinary.’ With a Stones-esque groove to the rock-rhythm, “Living Like A Dead” has fantastic energy that dominates both its verse and chorus…love the effects you can hear added to some of Kai’s vocals in this tune as well…like a bit more of a hint of reverb on some of them here…whatever he’s done certainly worked, he sounds great on this cut. Even while it was one of the more straight-ahead rock sounds on this entire record, I felt like he pulled off “Living Like A Dead” with intense professionalism…the kind of songwriting that has such electrifying energy and pull that it can bring you off of the fence and easily onto Rutherford’s side.
Of the ballad’s and acoustic-led songs on Outsider, I had the hardest time connecting to “Many Days” although I liked the lyrics quite a bit. Not sure really even what it was about this one…I think at times it was wanting another word or two to fill the space and not have Kai dragging out too many words to fit the melody & metering…but to argue again on his behalf, everything he’s done on “Many Days” works as it is. I suppose I was looking for more of the magic I felt on “Stay!” and “Little Angel” – and it’s WRONG for me to expect/want that…but there you have it. “Many Days” has its moments…it just sounded a little less structured and less planned than some of the others by comparison – or at least, maybe the verse did…the chorus of this song is actually quite powerful and continually finds more energy each time we hear it throughout its course.
Ending with a stripped-down sound on “Not Afraid” – Kai brings in additional instrumentation to take the album for a final twist into folk-rock before it’s all over. Personally, I think he ended this record on an exciting, humble-highlight…”Not Afraid” is actually quite stunning in its innocent nature and beautiful blend of sound. With it being so spacious, tender & mild – “Not Afraid” was the perfect tune to end the Outsider experience conclusively…you want for nothing by the end of the record because Kai has really covered it all so well with the different ideas, styles, textures and tones throughout this catalog of songs he’s been waiting to release. I can only imagine it felt great to have these songs come out as sparklingly clear and crisp as they have in their sound, performance and production…not only did he put in a solid set of songs onto Outsider – but in getting these songs out once & for all, Kai Rutherford will now be able to effectively move on to the next defining chapter of his career.
To be continued…
Find Kai Rutherford at Spotify here: https://play.spotify.com/album/0pD8mioNR7uO53RZs0Y1qL
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