Kevin Kerby | The Secret Lives of All Night Radios (Max Recordings)

Secret Lives, released by Little Rock upstart Max Recordings, sees the former Mulehead frontman in a mellow mood, going pensive in a traditionally gut-busting, stomp-adelic genre and revealing a naked-ape vulnerability all the more wiser for wear.

Kevin Kerby’s glockenspiel can kick your Stratocaster’s ass.

When Little Rock, Ark., alt-country stomp-rockers Mulehead released their swansong record, 2004’s Finer Thing, it left singer-songwriter Kerby to contemplate his musical future. The result of those ruminations is his solo debut, The Secret Lives of All Night Radios, a collection of sobering songs antithetical to Mulehead’s down-home recipe of rowdy-yet-reasoning barroom ballads and front porch poetics rife with Kerby’s acerbic wit, clever rejoinders, one-liners, and theological irreverence.

Secret Lives, released by Little Rock upstart Max Recordings, sees the former Mulehead frontman in a mellow mood, going pensive in a traditionally gut-busting, stomp-adelic genre and revealing a naked-ape vulnerability all the more wiser for wear. Kerby eschews traditional guitar solos in favor of plaintive organ complaints and percussive glockenspiel runs that will leave no one longing for the obligatory guitar lead. “And in the end, the stereo’s your only friend,” Kerby posits in the title track, investigating the nocturnal components inhabiting the FM dial: “Meters that peak and lights that glow/Drunk deejays and late night punk rock shows.” Cue the shaker. Cue the organ. Cue the glockenspiel. In the same theme comes “Transistor Romeo,” with play-on-words waggishness and Slobberbone’s Brent Best on slide guitar and harmony vocals.

With his producer, Mulehead drummer Geoff Curran, Kerby imposes a no guitar solos/no drum fills policy at the outset, but the team bends the rules as the record winds on, grinding to an edgier presentation as the production evolves from subtler studio explorations to more Mulehead-infused rockers.

“Here Comes the Neighborhood” features Kerby’s riotous wailing ’80s guitar lead and even some strangely synthesized glock. “Everyone’s a junky and everyone’s a thief/and no one believes what they say they believe,” Kerby proclaims in the jaunty “The Universal Junky Theory.” “It doesn’t take a Navajo to break this simple code,” the singer reveals with an authority almost unheard of from the Apple Blossom state.

The sweet nostalgia of “Younger Face” provides some of Kerby’s most sincere singing on the record. The lyrics, populated with warm images of boys with dirty mouths, watching Grandpa drink and Grandma smoke, trucks parked in the yard, and coolers full of cans all add up to a warmly recollective memory of the old home place.

Throughout the plentiful assemblage of personal, behind-the-scenes introspections, Kerby keeps one hand firmly strumming his acoustic while the other plumbs the depths of Ozark folk wisdom and sentiment with both sensitivity and honky-tonk tenacity. While the under-appreciated Mulehead spanned several years and produced a handful of original, good-time country porch rockers, Kerby’s insistence to push on impresses Secret Lives with a simple acumen that flavors the songs with a dash of beer and barbed weariness.

The doleful confessional of “This Blessed Contraption”—recorded with the backing help of cult favorites Centro-Matic—seems sagely wise beyond the singer’s years. The I-dotting, T-crossing, and notary public–stamping of a career in music gets left on the slab with quarters on its eyes and the weighty strains of a eulogy in the air. It all comes down to so much plywood and string, smitten girls, and the entropic nature of “this cursed machine” that finds Kerby “leaving the old songs for dead,” washing his hands of the campaign in lieu of the comforting surrender of a pillow.

In the end, we all wind up the same, as the singer laments in the record’s closer, and it’s clear that Kerby’s is the voice of a veteran whose wisdom may wittingly prove useful to young musicians, lovers, junkies, and other dysfunctional individuals.


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