Kenny Fame – Who Am I – Album Review
I mean…if the album title is suggesting that he’s currently soliciting theories, I’m certainly will to offer ours! Who Am I?, asks the star performer in question…and for us here at the page, that’s a pretty easy answer really; as this is our SIXTH review on Kenny Fame at our homepage in the span of just over a year’s time…I’d say that who you are Kenny, is the guy that forces me to rethink whether or not our site’s name should stay sleepingbagstudios as it is – or if we might as well change it up to ‘sleepingbagstudios – yet another home/division of the music of Kenny Fame.’ How’s THAT for a description on who Kenny Fame is – suppose that answers his question?
Okay…to be fair to the guy…he knows I dig constant creativity as long as it continues to show improvement and find a progression from where he was and where he started, to where he’s at today. If there’s certainly something I can say for the guy…he’s been on a long, long road that has included ups and downs, highlights & pitfalls…but even I’m starting to be convinced that maybe those moments where he’s faltered have started to fade away entirely. I can’t ignore the fact that Kenny Fame has been constantly improving upon the first moment we heard him way-back-when.
Besides all this…I could theorize all day long and insert inside-jokes between Kenny Fame as to who he is…but quite honestly, he’s said it better than I ever could on the very page you’ll find his new album Who Am I. Not only did he use some clever quotes from recognizable names & songs that would serve as solid pieces to the entirety of the definition…but he’s also laid it out better than any of them with a final quote of his own. “Who Am I? I would rather be hated for my artistic integrity, rather than to be worshiped and adored for the artistic integrity that I lack.” Those are words from the man direct and I couldn’t agree with this ambition more…he’s absolutely got it right in saying that.
The smoother-than-smooth bassline that starts out “Who Am I” is a serious audio-delight. Apparently, from what I’ve read…aside from Kenny’s vocals, the entire music-credentials belong to one man alone – Mr. Jack Mullin. As I began the new album…I found myself wanting to check through the past works of Kenny Fame to see if the rest had ever been him. From what I can see…it hasn’t been…and I’m going to assume this is a new collaboration here…and my ears are quickly drawing to the conclusion that this is a collaboration that works. The production was left to Jack as well…and I’m thinking after hearing Kenny coming out gunning from the starting block ready to run on this new record that this guy might have a lot to do with that. It’s no secret to any musician out there…once you find that producer or collaborator that really hits home and connects to the music you want to make, it’s like you’ve found another member of the band. Hearing the music here…the incredible feel and touch on the bass, the wonderful guitar-lead that drifts in and out throughout the atmosphere of “Who Am I” and the shuffling beat of the drums all blend together in a seriously wonderful combination. Sometimes that producer…when brave enough…will also challenge an artist with new twists on their own sound in the vocals…sometimes the challenge is simply holding the artist in question to what you KNOW is their best as well – and I’m wondering if Jack might just deserve a little credit for this as well. Kenny has a completely different twist on his own vocal sound in the opening title-track…not only does it work, it’s also full of flavor and focus. Kenny…brother-man…you’re sounding fantastic here and I am EXCITED to hear what’s next dude!
I’m thinking this record might just be a little short on disappointments this time around after hearing “I Wanna Be Your Number One” – it’s another solid jam. Kenny’s got a little trouble in the lower-end of his register on this one in trying to push that air out of his lungs to hold the tone of the notes…and while there might be a few moments of that throughout this second tune, overall I think this is definitely a worthy inclusion on this record. “I Wanna Be Your Number One” is another musically-sound song that drifts through a clever blues-infused verse before it builds and continues to find triumph in a light pop/R&B sound. Kenny has some great moments here, but also a few stumbles…stumbles I’m quite familiar with not just because of the past examinations of his work – but because they’re similar stumbles that many of us make, right up to and including your present-company/author here – me!
Best advice I can give him…the advice I found helped me the most when I was getting frustrated by finding 95% of my tone bang-on and 5% disaster…was to re-approach the writing…to really look at it…sometimes there’s just a small switch that we can make that will actually make all the difference in the world. For me, it was much about discovering that note slightly higher-up above it that allowed me to be much more satisfied with my own performances; it’s still gotta fit the song of course, but that was a truly key step. It’s often an indication of fast-written songs, or brand-new material that hasn’t sit in the incubator quite long enough yet…but again, for the record, I don’t think what I heard on “I Wanna Be Your Number One” has anything of serious concern that would cause you to skip past what becomes a very solid tune on the record – I’m just doing my part to pass on what I’ve learned that’s helped me in the past to Kenny-direct, who is easily one of the most accepting artist I know of when it comes to feedback & his more determined than anyone I can think of when it comes to making it in music today.
Now…it could just be that I’ve spun this album more than a few times by now…but do I recognize “Friends” and “Stay (For Jazz)?” I feel like these are completely recognizable songs from Kenny’s past work…but unless I’ve been looking at a different page all along, it also appears he’s tightened up his catalogue on his Bandcamp page and removed a few of the older records. That might be an indication that I’m not crazy…or maybe I’m crazier than I thought and none of those albums even existed before! I feel like I should be listening for my door to be kicked-in and some people with a nice & fancy jacket with plenty of straps might be visiting soon… I better at least get the rest of these thoughts down before they take away my privileges of pens & paper!
“Friends” is definitely a winner for Kenny. Great music, great track and wonderfully sentimental without being all cheesed-up. Fame has always treated much of his writing like an autobiography…his writing nearly always stems right from the beat of his heart and onto the recordings. “Friends” is an honest & real piece of writing…Kenny drifts between a vibrato-infused performance and an approach in the chorus that has him sounding his most confident. The music and atmosphere of this track is perhaps one of my favorites from this new record…the guitars are mysterious & emotional in their tones and the surrounding instrumentation all snaps perfectly together. I think again, a lot of credit needs to go to this new collaboration between himself and Jack Mullin…the music has been spot-on the entire time and it’s definitely bringing out some of the best in Kenny. Case in point – “Hometown Glory,” which might be a little looser overall…but the ability to rely on the music to be there for him, for it to rise and fall and provide that dynamic canvas for him to work with really ends up working in his favor here. Fame gives you a solid dose of his own vocal sound, instincts and approach with utmost purity here. The ad-lib vocalizations he’s taking on at the end make for a fantastic ending to “Hometown Glory” and letting himself loose like this…perhaps letting his guard down just a little more to expand that creativity even further really lets you hear the REAL Kenny come out – and honestly, it sounds great!
Okay…okay…okay! Guess WHAT people? I’m NOT crazy at all! When coming around to “Stay (For Jazz)” – I had had ENOUGH of assuming I was crazy…and I resorted to looking into past reviews we’d done now that I couldn’t find the album these songs had come from at the Bandcamp page – and it turned out, I was right! Not just about “Stay (For Jazz)” – but also about “Friends.” It was actually quite an interesting read through…checking out what had been said about these former recordings and survivalists from his Pompadour EP. I feel much differently about “Friends” now that it’s been smoothed out in its newly remastered version here on Who Am I – and honestly, “Stay For Jazz” seems to be a much better fit here on this record than finding it previously ending the Pompadour EP. It’s an incredible smooth listening experience…and from what I recall, was also the first time I could recall Kenny jumping into the jazz-circuit. To be truthful…my ears are inclined to tell me that “Stay For Jazz” is still found here with its original recipe…maybe a slight update if any at all…but again, I’d cite placement and a proper home on this new record that allows it to breathe a little more and make a lot more sense to our ears this time around.
I’ve NEVER seen this in my 15+ years of music-journalism…not once, not ever – and it’s because of that, that this idea deserves a shout-out. To be truthful completely…it’s a little jarring on the record between “Stay (For Jazz)” and “Summertime” – but there’s a moment that takes place here on the inside of those two tracks that is unique to any record I’ve seen or heard outside of a demo. It’s called “(To Be Continued On) A Different Day” – which essentially, is a tiny sixteen-second riff…an idea yet to be realized but as the title implies, hopefully one that we can expect to hear in his future. I can’t imagine how excited about this song he truly must be in order to include a sixteen second preview of it here that ends more than abruptly before “Summertime” begins…but I’m guessing VERY? Again…it’s a bizarre and odd inclusion to this record…especially considering that the flow and transition from “Stay (For Jazz)” and “Summertime” would have potentially made that much more logical sense to our ears…but on the other hand, Kenny’s still on his grind like the rest of the independents out there trying to get their music heard & remembered in music’s history – so what’s the harm in a little clever advertising? It’s so unique…stands out so hard from the rest…that even though it’s only sixteen seconds long and it’s taken me at least five-times as long as listening to it to write this very paragraph…I can’t help but comment on how clever of a tactic it might be. I know it serves the future well…but in truth, I’m also not sure how well it serves the cohesion and overall sound of this current recording…I’m being both pushed & pulled here on “(To Be Continued On) A Different Day.”
“Summertime” has a real jam-style to it. Lots of energy and lots of brightness to its rhythm and melody. Will it become your “Summertime” anthem this year? Time will tell as far as you’re concerned – but it’s clear that Kenny is already in the mood to celebrate the upcoming season. I think the background vocals work better here in this track than most when he’s got them pitching in to thicken & strengthen the sound…it’s a little hard to say that it compares with the rest of what I’ve heard so far; really much of these final three tracks seem to serve as almost an afterthought to the rest of the record so far. “Summertime” is a playful and fun jam, but something about it seems to not quite gel with the rest of Who Am I and the previous tunes. It’s followed by a final twenty-seven seconds of what serves as a final interlude “I Am Who” – which…I’m also mixed on as the ending. It’s obviously completely borrowing it’s part from the record’s title-track…and I’ve got no issue with it overall other than the abruptness of the ending. Cut so sharply like someone hit the mute on it…it has that same ‘we need more’ feeling that the shortened “(To Be Continued On) A Different Day” has…which leads to a feeling like it’s all somehow incomplete rather than what I think was more of an attempt to bring it all around full-circle into cohesion. Even a fade-out here, as much as I might despise those too, I think would have served the record better…maybe using that echoed-out sound of “Who Am I” trailing off and repeating slowly into the distance…but that might just be the way this ending hit me personally. It might work for you as its intended to…but for me…I think this might have been a case where Kenny needed to step in and tighten-up the idea overall on what would have made for a solid EP of five-songs rather than get a little crazy here at the end of Who Am I and try to draw out the material a little longer. Nothing wrong with a tight-set and short EP worth repeating, like, ever…but it can often be difficult to repeat an album that feels uneven and I think that he might run into a little difficulty finding those ears of acceptance with how he’s chosen to lay out this record’s final three.
Still a solid effort despite my criticism – I think the collaboration of talents between the music of Jack Mullin and the vocals of Kenny Fame have created some real highlight moments and have shown he’s still pursuing a solid path of refining his sound overall…and like many of us, even the greatest of the great – he’s still showing spots where it can all be improved and perfected as he continues to evolve as an artist. The most important thing I can say…perhaps the best thing I can say…is that I don’t feel like Kenny Fame is drifting too far towards his past anymore and I think that his constant improvement is completely measurable from album to album. The best is still yet to come from Kenny Fame…I think I know it, and truthfully I think he knows it too and that’s a lot of what drives him today.
And I really think that should still excite him greatly – he’s clearly on the right path to becoming the artist he’s always known he can be and still pursuing those dreams with everything he’s got.
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