According to Kevin Devine, his latest track, "The Ballad of St. Fred", is an experiment of sorts. As Mr. Devine didn't elaborate, I'm not entirely sure what type of experiment it's supposed to be but not fifteen seconds into my first listen of the song, I felt an incredibly strong sense of exaclty what the title of this blog implies because to me, the four-point-five minute track is incredibly reminiscent of the work of my hero, Elliott Smith.
Available for free download over at ilike, the lyrically melancholy, understated track finds the prettiness of Devine's voice reduced as his layered vocals remain for the majority of the song at a strained whisper. Perhaps after repeated listens, more of Devine's sound will shine through but to me, save "All Of Everything Erased", the opening track of his last full length, last year's Brother's Blood, the song would sound completely in step with Smith's comprehensive and near flawless back catalog, save the song's only misstep of a backing track of snaps. (Nothing against snaps - I like them alright but they just don't work for me here.) That isn't to say that the song sounds like a "rip off" of anything Smith had done. I've heard many artists try to blatantly imitate Elliott Smith and the results are usually unlistenably derivative. To me, Devine pays homage to Smith in a very real way that is completely his own while showing the utmost respect for what Smith accomplished in his career. That's probably the biggest compliment I can pay to someone and believe me, I am feeling incredibly foolish for missing the house show Devine played not an hour away from my apartment earlier in the month. (In my defense, the alternator in my car died and I wasn't able to get it fixed in time so it's totally not my fault!)
Showcasing Devine's increasingly strong song writing against hushed instrumentation that shows off some incredibly talented guitar playing, I've long been of the opinion that Kevin Devine shines the most when he lets his folk influences shine through and while there's no official word from K.D. himself whether or not he'll still be accompanied by the Goddamn Band on his forthcoming release, if "The Ballad of St. Fred" and a song I've nothing short of fallen head over heels in love with, "You Wouldn't Have To Ask", are any indication, it looks like a near-acoustic Devine album is a better possibility now than it has been since the release of his solo debut, Circle Gets The Square.
Later this spring, Devine will surely be testing out his new tracks as he hits the road opening for Thrice with other Hot Half favorites, Bad Veins, making for what's going to be a pretty dang surreal tour for this roving reporter.