Tomorrow night the band and I will be heading down to Blount County to play “Behind The Barn” at Barley’s in downtown Maryville. “Behind The Barn” is a free weekly concert series hosted by Jeff Barbra & Sarah Pirkle and broadcast live on i105 WFIV. If you can’t join us at Barley’s you can tune in live on your radio dial at 105.3 FM or online via streaming audio at www.myi105.com. On Friday, Mic Harrison, Josh Smith and I will be heading up to play a house concert in Richmond, Virginia, then at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday. For more info click on over to the Shows page.
Our good friends Tim and Susan Lee have had some rough days lately. Susan lost her father, and then Tim’s mom passed just a week later. If you know the Lee’s, then you know they’re always first responders for anyone who needs a hand, so a bunch of folks decided it was time to pay it forward and show them the love they so freely give to us. What better way then with friends and music and hot dogs? Come join us at Lost & Found Records for the Rock-n-Roll Cookout on Sunday the 17th from 1:00-9:00 PM. This is a free event, rain or shine, with hot dogs on the grill and raffle prizes all day!
Kevin Abernathy is an old school rock and roller, a bar band veteran who has been plugging away for 20 years in the Knoxville, Tennessee musical landscape. Every good scene needs a guy like him: approachable, professional, and stubbornly creative. Fans might not grab every album upon release, but they know that when they do, it’ll be solid and entertaining, just like his stage show. The same can be said of his latest EP, Family Hour, the cover of which resembles a classic children’s Golden Book. It’s as straightforward and effective as that inspiration.
Opener “You Kids” touches upon a familiar—if also under-expressed—parental impulse: the impatience of waiting for the nest to empty. Afterward, “Don’t Say My Baby” is a bar-band blues brag with requisite guitar pyrotechnics, while “Beach Music” is a sweet piece of nostalgia with “na-na’s” that evoke the hard rocking of Joe Walsh in his prime. “Rock Star Dyin’ Blues” expresses the mourning-overload so many have felt over the course of the last 18 months of rock and roll losses.
Luckily, Abernathy’s band (the same core line-up that accompanied him on his last record, Ain’t Learned Yet) rocks with authority. A good band can make it heavy while keeping things light, and Po Hannah (guitar), Mike Murphy (bass), and Gray Comer (drums) do just that throughout the eight tracks collected here. The instrumental “Bullet Holes For Speed”, in particular, shows their collective prowess. All in all, Familly Hour passes by in half that time, and it’s a fine ride all the way through.
Returning to the issues of “Your Kids”, Abernathy’s nest is pretty full at the moment, with his daughters following in their father’s footsteps and forming their own band, the Pinklets. Yet, they don’t follow too closely; like typically rebellious teenagers, they sound nothing like their dad.
The Pinklets are comprised of Roxie (17) on bass and piano, Lucy (14) on lead vocals and guitar; and Eliza (12) on drums. Their DIY spirit shines through on their eponymous debut’s eight tracks, as do their already strong musical chops. Roxie’s piano is the dominant instrument for many of the songs, although it is Lucy’s guitar (riffing off of the Clash’s “Tommy Gun”) that makes the first impression in the opening cut, “Careless”. Elsewhere, Eliza’s drumming charges an “R-O-C-K in the USA”-like groove in “Setting Sail”. The trio’s songwriting shows maturity right out of the gate, too, such as with the following lines from “Defenses”: “It’s a pattern that I’m seeing . . . Every time we argue, you call me broken / Something’s holding me back . . . And I think that it’s you”. Lucy’s voice possesses a mix of sweetness and grit that is reminiscent of another great, independent Southern singer: Dana Kletter.
This debut merits repeat playing. It’s catchy as hell and promises great things to come as these young ladies continue to grow and explore their artistic impulses.
Some artists have the gift, that is, the ability to pluck songs out of the ethos and make them sound whole on arrival. East Tennessee’s Kevin Abernathy possesses that quality, one reason why he’s not only one of the region’s best, but also a singer/songwriter worthy of national renown.
Add to that the fact that he’s a great dad. Sure, raising a family sometimes takes second place when the demands of show biz take precedence. But the fact that he’s got three talented daughters, who themselves are making waves with their sisterly band the Pinklets, further testifies to his ability to balance the personal and the professional. Consequently, his new eight song EP, aptly titled Family Hour, finds a common bond in ways both sweet and subtle. “I’m living the dream,” he proudly proclaims on “Appearances,” a song Shawn Mullins would likely love to call his own. Elsewhere, “You Kids” speaks directly to his offspring about that inevitable day when they’ll leave home, leaving him and his wife as empty nesters. That’s sort of sentiment any father will find a clear connection with.
Humor, however, is mostly the order of the day, especially as evidenced by “Stage Dad,” which finds Abernathy poking fun at himself, both as a (slightly) ageing musician and roadie-come- lately in service to his daughters’ endeavors. Happily though, Roxie and Lucy Abernathy repay the favor, lending keyboards (in Roxie’s case) and backing vocals on the album’s final entry, “Let’s Pretend.” And yes, that’s Lucy’s whimselcal painting gracing the cover.
Still, don’t get the impression that because Family Hour focuses on his home life, Abernathy has simply churned out sappy songs of sentiment and reflection. To the contrary, “Don’t Say My Baby,” “Beach Music,” “Rock Star Dyin’ Blues” and the surging instrumental “Bullet Holes for Speed” are edgy, gritty and flush with an appropriate amount of amplitude and attitude. What else might one expect from such a completely committed and remarkably rockin’ dad…
The middle of the month I’ll be teaming up with old pals Ned Hill, of Ned Van Go, and Johnny Mark Miller, of Les Honky More Tonkies, for several Songwriters-‘in-tha-round shows. On Thursday the 13th we’ll be playing the Down Home in Johnson City, Friday the 14th we’ll be in Knoxville at Holly’s Corner in Happy Holler, then we’ll be wrapping up the weekend with a private house concert in Nashville on Saturday.
For the last decade, Kevin Abernathy has been releasing an album every couple of years, each one showcasing a slightly different side of his musicianship. He dug into Southern rock and shredding guitar on Rock-N-Roll Fiasco, A Beautiful Thing, and Scrap Metal Blues; with Some Stories, in 2012, he traded in the amplified guitars for acoustic back-porch music and fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and lots of harmony vocals. Ain’t Learned Yet, from 2015, seemed like a synthesis, with understated lead guitar embellishing a batch of fully developed singer-songwriter-type songs.
But Family Hour is another departure. At just 27 minutes, it’s Abernathy’s most concise statement yet. In the past, he’s favored five- and six-minute songs to allow room for his guitar, but also for the characters—outcasts, outlaws, and other assorted miscreants—who inhabit his songs. Here, the songs feel more personal and less narrative-driven—they’re songs about middle age and, as the title suggests, family life. “You Kids” is a reverse version of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” an anthem to getting teenagers out of the house for peace and quiet; “Stage Dad” is a rip-roaring pop-punk track, all of two minutes and 13 seconds, about being the father of three musicians. (Abernathy’s daughters play in the Pinklets.) There’s some formal variety—“Don’t Say My Baby” tours through honky-tonkin’ cowpunk territory, and “Beach Music” explores pre-Beatles pop-rock.
Another difference: Both Some Stories and Ain’t Learned Yet featured all-star rosters of local talent like Greg Horne, Trisha Gene Brady, and Tim and Susan Lee, and Sean McCollough. The lineup on Family Hour is leaner—Abernathy on guitar and vocals, Gray Comer on drums, Po Hannah on guitar, and Mike Murphy on bass, with guest appearances by John Baker and two of the Pinklets.
It’s a change that suits the modest but affecting music here.