Mike Keneally is one of the best things that the current scene has to offer. Starting his career with a stint in Frank Zappa’s short-lived 1988 “Broadway the Hard Way” tour, Keneally has since released a number of albums with a host of different bands, most notably Beer for Dolphins. Keneally also tours with the heavy metal band Dethklok, Steve Vai, and occasionally works with Joe Satriani, while at the same time maintaining a solo career that highlights his fantastic and varied talents as a guitarist, composer, keyboardist, and vocalist. Live, his current band (aptly named the Mike Keneally band) performs his fantastic music with much proficiency and heart. In addition to this, he is a great guy to chat with. I met him in June and he was nothing but pleasant and welcoming.
So, onto this new record. At his June gig during NEARfest 2012, he debuted several new songs from his upcoming record, a writing collaboration with former XTC chief songwriter Andy Partridge, a band that, although I’m not familiar with, were a New Wave / Pop band hailing from England, which were active from 1977-2005 and were a critical success. Seeing as I know next to nothing about either artists’ output, I think that my lack of knowledge might lend a unique perspective on what is a very popular prog album at the moment. Here, Keneally plays the majority of the instruments on the album (an impressive feat in itself) with some help from members of his current live band.
Opening up with perhaps the best song title of the year, “The Ineffable Oomph of Everything, Part 1”, we are drawn into the quirky atmosphere of this album with some Mike Keneally acoustic guitar backed by bass and topped off with some country-style electric. It’s the choice of chords here that is interesting. Mike Kenealy knows how and where to place the chords and how to write a compelling melody on top in a way that I’m not sure anyone else can. This is over rather quickly, and we are drawn into a piece called “It’s Raining here, Inside” – a piece that if you hear once, you will hear in your head for days … but in a good way! Its a great tune with some fantastic guitar work from Keneally and erupts into a heated electric guitar solo in the middle that, for my tastes, is a bit too short. It’s practically over before it begins, but it shows Keneally’s unique ability to pack the right notes to make a short spurt interesting. This tune is over soon, with some great piano playing from Keneally at the end. The next track is the title track, a beautiful tune with some great melodies that find a way to stick in your head for days, even though they are placed on top of very unusual chords. The whole thing is an absolute joy to listen to with enough variety to keep it interesting throughout.
“The Ineffable Oomph of Everything, Part 2” uses similar instrument colors as Part 1, before moving onto possibly my favorite song on the album, “You Kill Me”, a protest song with some great lyrics and multiple movements that switch time signatures on a dime, with some zany Zappa-esque vibes in places. After that tiny ‘movie for your ears’ – so described by Andy Partridge – there’s another short piece entitled “Friend of a Friend” which is a compelling piece of acoustic guitar with some electric in the background, which ends all too soon before moving on to “That’s Why I Have No Name”. This piece opens with some great keys and is possibly the moodiest number on the record so far, and almost taps into a similar of the darker Richard Thompson pieces, before working into a guitar solo that is brief, tasteful, and full of Fripp-ish backwards effects that ebb and flow like a tide. Next up, is a quiet ballad entitled “Your House”, which is a sweet little tune which made its debut at the June show, at which Keneally promised was not a ‘stalker tune’!
Next, is “Miracle Woman and Man”, a song which opens with some fantastic acoustic work from Keneally and is a wonderful tune that is full of direction and at times, reminds me a bit of Jethro Tull. In fact, I’d say that the whole album might appeal to fans of Ian Anderson’s acoustic work, as the chord choices sometimes remind me of those on 1970’s “Benefit”. Words fail to describe the beautifully creative nature of some of the passages in this piece, it is truly the work of a modern master. The next tune, “Inglow”, starts off with some percussion, before moving into some delicate electric playing and features great old-style country electric … the good kind of country! This is piece is mostly instrumental with some lyrics near the end that serve the mood of the piece well. Next, we hear some keys and we’re already on the penultimate track of the album, “Bobeau”. Here, the rhythm is the immediate focus with some tight horn section sounds in the background for some extra color and interest in the mix. This is probably the strangest, most Keneally-esque song on the album, with a lot of changes in mood and strange movements. In the middle, there’s a thunderstorm, before the excellent music returns and the horns return. Probably my second favorite song on the album, next to “You Kill Me” and it features a thrilling Keneally solo with some fantastic horns underneath, making this undoubtedly the heaviest and perhaps proggiest tune on the record. The piece ends with some distortion and we’re left with some water sounds, before segueing into “Land”, which features some excellent backing vocals and acoustic guitar work and a Zappa-esque solo, which brilliantly, at one point ceases to be a solo and becomes part of the melody, something Keneally has an uncanny ability to do. It ends with a Steve Howe-esque guitar lick (Think “Mood for a Day”), before we hear the faint sounds of birds and the disc ends. Fantastic, indeed.
In summary, this new Keneally / Partridge album is a fun listen, with some great melodies and interesting chord choices. Its melodic enough for the casual listener, yet forward thinking and complex to be interesting for the adventurous type. I’m not sure if I can recommend it to fans of XTC (I’ve not heard a note of XTC), but I’m certain that Keneally fans and progressive music fans would find something to enjoy with this new release.
You can purchase your own copy of the record here: