If there’s a more appropriate title for singer-songwriter Kevin Abernathy’s new album, he’s hard-pressed to come up with it.
“Family Hour,” after all, turns on the intricacies of Abernathy’s relationship with his wife and three daughters, all of it filtered through the snark and wistfulness that he so deftly commands. There’s “You Kids,” about the eventual departure of his kids from the nest; “Stage Dad,” a sarcastic rejoinder to comments about his daughters’ rock band, The Pinklets; and the boogie-woogie shuffle of “Don’t Say My Baby,” a love song to the sort of woman strong enough to marry a guy like Abernathy: “She got one child on her hip, two more pulling on her legs, they’re screaming bloody murder, she’s on the phone and flipping eggs …”
“I’m in a lot of these songs, and a lot of these are how I really feel about some things, and some of them are directly drawn from things that have happened in my family,” Abernathy told The Daily Times recently. “We became tighter-knit unit last year. We did a lot of traveling, and the girls played a lot while I dealt with stage managers and sound guys. Now, they’re pretty much doing their own thing and running their own show, but we’re all still pretty tight. Roxy played on four or five songs on this record, and Lucy sang backup on one, and then her painting of the family band is the album’s cover.”
With such a stellar body of work to his credit, it’s difficult to say that “Family Hour” is his best, but it certainly sounds like Abernathy at his most comfortable: From the doo-wop flourishes of “Beach Music” to the bite of “Stage Dad” to the wryly observational “Appearances,” it’s a rock ‘n’ roll record that feels like a favorite jacket, well-worn but never out of style, and it adds to the sort of cachet that makes Abernathy East Tennessee’s answer to Peter Wolf.
“I just admire a songwriter who can write a short song; it’s hard for me to do, because I’m a detail person, and I like that people know what the song is about,” he said. “Writing shorter is harder to do in a story song; it’s hard to take 16 lines and basically tell a short story in under four minutes, but I tried to challenge myself and keep every song under 3 minutes. There are a couple longer than that, but if one clocked in at 3:08, I would say, ‘Nope! Let’s trim some more fat!’”
Abernathy — who will celebrate “Family Hour” with a release show on Friday at Barley’s Knoxville — is a Monroe County boy (and a cousin to Madisonville starlet Emilie “EmiSunshine” Hamilton) who was drawn to hard rock and metal when he first picked up a guitar. After graduating high school in 1982, he left for California, where he started dabbling in songwriting and played in a number of bands before moving to Nashville, where he landed a gig in the Shapeshifters. That band found a modest degree of success, and while in Music City, Abernathy studied the craft of artists like John Hiatt. When he moved back to East Tennessee, he released a trio of records under the Kevin Abernathy Band moniker before scaling back and dabbling in a more folk-oriented sound with “Some Stories” in 2012. “Family Hour” follows “Ain’t Learned Yet,” released in 2015, and follows a reliable formula — plenty of guitar, a backing band (Gray Comer, who also recorded “Family Hour” at The Arbor Studio, on drums; Barry “Po” Hannah” on guitar; and Mike Murphy on bass) that completes his vision and songwriting that’s some of the most respected in the local scene.
“I’ve been in and out of the studio for a year and a half, recording these songs, and I was trying to write more, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “This was going to be an EP; I had six songs, and then I put on an instrumental (“Bullet Holes,” built off a riff that’s a couple decades old) and wrote ‘Let’s Pretend.’”
One of his fears, however, is that with his daughter’s painting on the album’s cover, and given the title itself, some fans may think he’s recorded a children’s album. It’s not, and besides, it’s a better fit than the photo he had picked out, one of a group of four mountain boys from Townsend, culled from his mother-in-law’s photo albums.
“I had the antithesis of Lucy’s painting,” he said with a laugh. “It does look like a children’s record, but it’s cute and unexpected, and I’m going to use it.”
By Steve Wildsmith Jun 14, 2017 The Daily Times
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at email@example.com or at 981-1144, follow him on Twitter @TNRockWriter and “Like” Weekend on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dailytimesweekend.