This album/book was part of my top list for 2011, and when I recently pulled out the book to read it again I decided this really needed to get a through review on Ninebullets to make sure more people know about this gem.
The only thing I indulge in larger quantities than music is books. To my wife’s despair. I’m trying to keep some sort of truce by investing in a Kindle, and it seems to have worked for now.
I got Drew Kennedys album last year, and contacted him after hearing it and finding out about the concept that lays behind it. He sent me a digital copy of the book to review, which I loaded onto my Kindle and commenced to let Drew take me with him on his journey.
Fresh Water In The Salton Sea is, as you already will have understood, both an album and a book. We meet singer/songwriter Dan Murphy, and throughout the book we get to take part in his life on the road, and he shares his feelings, problems, happiness and challenges of being a singer on the road in today’s USA with us in expert manner.
Drew Kennedy rides around America, playing his music to audiences all over, and naturally he pulls from his own experiences in this book.
Throughout the book, he gets inspiration for new songs – and in the place where Dan Murphy naturally would have written a song – the lyrics are printed. And of course they are the songs on the album. If you take time to listen to the songs at the point Murphy writes them in the book, it really heightens the experience of the album. But any one object can be enjoyed alone at any time without losing anything – and that is perhaps the largest success here. It works as a concept album, a concept book and it works as a stand alone album AND as a stand alone book.
The book kicks off with a intense scene which could have been pulled right out of The Sopranos, and we effectively get direct insight into Dans demons. Or perhaps demon is more correct. He has been dumped by Maria, and his subconciense is trying to kill her off in more and more peculiar and/or violent ways every night, while Dan himself fights it and lives through nightmare after nightmare where Maria (and sometimes himself) are killed.
It’s a perfect character build-up and you immediately get a feeling for the character, showing his depth instead of leaving him a two dimensional idiot who you won’t care for after a few more pages.
The first song on the album, coexisting with the first chapter of the book is called “War With Myself”, and you get the picture. Dan Murphy has work to do, mainly on himself, all the while he’s ready for a new tour through the south western USA.
We tag along, and get to see life on the road from the inside. His trials are many, and often trivial. Like blowing out a tire on the car, and the meeting with the Mexican border-control. But we who haven’t lived a life on the road quickly understand that it’s not as glamorous as we have led ourselves to believe. It’s like Otis Gibbs sings: “Seven hours in a car, forty five minutes singing in a bar”. And perhaps to a small audience that’s not too interested.
A lot of the book is situated in the south western US, bordering Mexico, an area which is brilliantly described by Cormac McCarthy, especially in his Border Trilogy, and I’m guessing he’s gotten inspiration from McCarthy and his stories.
Dan Murphy seems like he’s a great musician, but at the same time his behaviour is not at all like the stories we’ve read about in Rolling Stone and in all kinds of biographies. Here’s none of the maddening parties with hookers, cocaine and free flowing alcohol. Dan Murphy is a nice and respectful young man, travelling the US – keeping below the speed limits and treating everyone in a polite and correct way. Still, he shows us he’s got the balls when he needs to. This is obviously closer to the truth for the lonely musicians criss-crossing America, entertaining people everywhere and nowhere.
What’s important to Murphy are the stories. He devours the tales and experiences from the places and people he meets, which in turn make their way into the songlyrics we are treated to between the chapters. At the same time, the journey is a unspoken self therapy to get past his broken relationship. And when Murphy visits both Durango and at low speed passes Winslow, Arizona – meeting everything from ghosts to one of the survivors from the crash that took the lives of half of Lynyrd Skynynrd, at least THIS reader is well and truly captured.
And then it’s the album. I liked the album before I read the book. But after reading the book, I like the album even better. And when I read the book, I listened to the songs in all their right places, giving the book that extra dimension I’ve rarely experienced.
Musically, I’ll gladly label it Americana with outstanding lyrics. He’s got a few musicians with him, adding sparingly instrumentation to the songs. Some light drums, a piano – an extra guitar or a careful pedal-steel. Perfectly in just the right places. The back-up vocals really lifts the songs, but the slightly stripped sound of the songs lets them show of their real strength – which is the lyrics and the melodies. And you get that Kennedy, like his character Dan Murphy, is a great performer himself – travelling the US with his acoustic guitar – getting his words across without the need of a full band behind him.
I really recommend this album. And I really recommend this book. Together or by themselves. You won’t regret it.
Fresh video of “Stars In California”: