While all of the Twangville writers have their favorite artists, there are a few of them that end up on just about all of our lists. Kevin Gordon makes that short list, and his latest record caught the imagination of more than one of us. So here are a few thoughts on Long Gone Time.
I’d pay good money to read a novel written by Kevin Gordon. It’s not that I want him to give up music or that he’s no good at writing songs. To the contrary, he excels at it. It’s just that he’s such a talented storyteller that I have no doubt that he’d shine at non-musical prose as well.
Gordon’s songs are incredible character studies, filled with the small details that give them depth and personality. While not always autobiographical, they draw heavily from his youthful memories of Southern life and growing up in Louisiana.
“Cajun with a K,” for example, finds Gordon revisiting a town from his youth. “Decay takes its own saccharine time,” he concludes as he considers the locals who have remained, including the poetry-writing cashier, the Cadillac-driving DA and the various patrons at the local bar.
The theme continues as Gordon returns to another town from his childhood in “Walking the Levee.” His memories are vivid yet he still feels like a stranger as he takes an early morning stroll. “Walking on the levee, pretty ghost at my side,” he sings, “The past and the present all caught in my eye.”
“GTO” is another classic for the Gordon canon, the tale of his father’s prized car getting stolen. The song is as much a metaphor for dreams disrupted as it is about a car found in the bottom of a lake.
Perhaps not surprisingly, churches and bars are frequent locations in Gordon’s songs, both making an appearance in “Church on Time.” After working the over-night shift, the character races to get to church. Alas, he gets distracted along the way by “the sweetest fruit on the vine.” The song concludes with the colorful warning:
The congregation met and they sent me a letter
Said we’re gonna pray for you, son, ‘til your timing gets better
We’re making a mark for every day you miss
Remember old Judas went astray with just one kiss
When his immortal soul was lost for the mere cost of 40 dimes
He didn’t make it to church on time.
Cowboy and country singer Brownie Ford makes two appearances in this latest batch of songs. Gordon talks about meeting the late singer in elegiac “Goodnight Brownie Ford” and later recalls the conversation in bluesy “Letter to Shreveport.” The message is the same in both songs – be true to yourself and to your music. Seems like good advice and, as Long Gone Time attests, is a life lesson that Gordon has taken to heart.
Gordon, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s famous writer’s workshop, is most at home telling stories. Long Gone Time, possibly his bluesiest project to date, tells some great stories and is no exception. Some of the tunes, like the bluesy opener “All in the Mystery,” the bouncy “GTO,” the elegant “Walking on the Levee,” and the twangy “Crowville” are more musical. Others, like “Shotgun Behind the Door” and the astonishingly incisive “
Lots of folks talk about how the heat and humidity in the daytime are what drives so much of Southern culture, but I think it’s the night-time. The weatherman says it’s cooling off, but the air just covers you like some sort of extended waterboarding experiment. You never really sleep; you just lay there stewing in your juices. It’s no wonder that change in attitudes sometimes comes slow in that environment. Those attitudes have garnered national attention lately, and like anything that captures the interest of TV news it rapidly becomes an over-simplified caricature. It’s more than that though, both insidious in its evil and blameless in its normalcy. That’s the setting of the stories that seem to pour from Kevin Gordon’s soul on his latest album.
“Shotgun Behind the Door” reminds us of the racism of an old man watching Lawrence Welk believing “troubles face is always a shade of brown.” “GTO” remembers dad getting his dream muscle car, only to have it stolen and joy-ridden into the lake. There are plenty of stories of people living in the margins like the “amphetamine-thin…coffee and cigarettes” roadie in “If You Will” where we’re asked to “give him comfort if you can”. Or “Immigrant”, where being an outsider has nothing to do with where you’re born. “Letter To Shreveport” draws a literal picture of the “black ink between blue lines” of the paper.
Virtually all of Gordon’s expressive lyrics on Long Gone Time are put to sparse musical arrangements featuring primarily Kevin on guitar, either acoustical or a lo-fi garage sound that just emphasizes the struggle Gordon is so adept at putting into musical theater.
Photo credit: Heather Leroy
About the author: The Twangville Posse listens to music. Lots and lots of music.