Driving an old beat-up car down a dirt road with no endpoint in mind, canoeing on a favourite lake, or sitting around a campfire and swapping the best stories and knee-slappers you can muster, this is what Kenny James’ album, ‘Tougher Than Nails’, brings to mind.
For someone who grew up on Merle Haggard, Kenny Rogers, and Ryan Adams, the lilt of Kenny’s voice, and the artists featured on the album, bring to mind many of the past greats: the picking and melodic undertones of his own guitar playing along with the guitar stylings of Dave Rahmer, the soaring accent of Stacey Read’s fiddle playing, Edgar Hann’s accordion on ‘Monday Afternoon’ and ‘Insane Town’, the complimentary vocal harmonic stylings of Caroline Savoie and Klarka Weinwurm. The lyrical reminiscence of lost-love, childhood memories, and growing up in the Maritimes all work together to create toe-tapping ballads of dirt roads, drinking stories gone wrong, and the sweet-but-deadly venom of growing up in a small town, an experience that most New Brunswickers can relate to.
From “Truth in Every Lie”, to the title track, “Tougher Than Nails”, and to “Insane Town”, a song reminiscent of the feelings of those who grew up here, in New Brunswick, Kenny takes the listener on a cross-country road trip down a dirt road to their favourite waterfall camping spot, where one can hear the crickets chirp and the frogs croak to the sounds of beloved campfire refrains.
From catchy guitar playing, to well-chosen female harmonies, to the story told by the lyrics, ‘Truth in Every Lie’ begins the album with a bang. The listener is reminded of some of the bitter-sweet lessons learned in life, ‘When you first came to be, you’re momma cried, so full of life. Now no one dares to speak. We all wonder why, an emptiness inside, for a little truth in every lie’.
‘Insane Town’ is a reverberating reminder of the New Brunswick towns that many of Kenny’s listeners grew up in. The love-hate relationship that many Maritimers have with their hometowns is seen in this all-too-telling track.
“It’s like a ball and chain, keeps you here when you’ve always dreamt of going away’; Oh, what a shame. It must’ve rained for days. The water level was rising in the street again, to wash away my sins. It’s an insane town. It’s an insane town, where the people are afraid of their own shadows.”
Finally, the title track, ‘Tougher Than Nails’, speaks to the love story of a couple who are individually self-sufficient, are bonded together by matrimony, and who then work hard to survive the hard lives dealt to them. The melody holds all of the twang of an old country-tune, while nodding to such legendary storytellers as Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers. If you are an old-style country music fan who is looking for a new local Maritime artist to follow, Kenny James is certainly your man.
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