Kenny Roby - Memories & Birds
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Having already been touted by the likes of Ryan Adams and Citizen Cope, North Carolina singer-songwriter is still quite removed from the spotlight. But that will shortly change soon. Roby's latest album Memories & Birds (his fourth) is arguably one of 2013's best and accentuates that Roby is easily one of North Carolina's foremost talents. That being written, one might want to sit down, buckle in and brace themselves for the torments of emotion that flood this white-knuckle of a record. For starters, not one track is shorter than four minutes. Only one rises above downbeat, somber terrain. And yet, despite these potential hiccups, Roby rises above it all and makes Memories & Birds absolutely stunning.
Every song is a study in restraint, a dedicated composition that is equal parts calculating, controlled and creative. The titular opener is hazy and has the kind of veneer that invites one to sit back in an easy and chair and let the weight of the world roll off their shoulders. The most immediate facet of "Memories & Birds" is Roby's powerhouse croon and its a trait that is worn well through the duration of the disc. On "The Monster," airy horns, faint drums and a measured grace that is nothing short of spellbinding help make the song one of the disc's true pinnacles. Whereas some songs can take awhile to warm up, "The Monster" kicks from the very first second and never relents.
On "The Craziest Kid Around," Roby sounds weary and defeated but that sense of humanness is not just affecting, but also inviting. Whiskey-soaked, well-worn and supple from the very first note, the song has the same comforting grace of well-worn jeans or slip-on loafers. A solacing tonic that also functions as a narrative yarn about adolescence, the song tackles the sinister realities of a complex world in a way that is as poetic, exquisite and absorbing as anything released this year.
The eight-minute "Colorado" is an ageless, string-laden ballad that starts like a whisper before segueing into ruminative cinematic territory. Anchored by great arrangements and first-rate songwriting, "Colorado" is as close to perfection as it gets. The swerving Motown pop of "Tired of Being in Love" coasts on sultry horns and allows Roby the chance to showcase his powerhouse vocals. His skill is that he possesses amazing control of his voice and has a hand firmly rooted in old-school soul and nowhere is that more prominent than in the brilliant "A Shore Mile." Memories & Birds closes out with the tortured "Me and the Monkey" and the delicate "Our Fading Fighter."
When it all ends, one can't help but have the life sucked out of them. Dark and haunting like a Southern Gothic novel, Memories & Birds is equal parts shadowy, troubled and elegiac. Buttressed by a layered mix of strings, horns and background singers, this is a gem of a disc and one that demands wider attention.