Kevin Durr – Better Angels
There are some who will find Kevin Durr’s songwriting a bit tedious with its upbeat point of view, but those are more than likely those with preconceived notions about singer/songwriters always maintaining some dire, self-centered aura of despair, forever wracked by love, or mending broken hearts. Kevin Durr’s artistic vision, however, is much wider than that and his musical talents back it up quite nicely. His songwriting has always incorporated both acoustic and more pop-oriented textures – the trend continues with his new album Better Angels and he sounds more confident than ever with pouring old wine into new bottles and delivering songs that say something meaningful about modern human experience without ever laying it on too thick for listeners. It’s a treat to hear a singer/songwriter who is so individual rather than yet another talented parrot mimicking their musical heroes. He’s taken lessons learned him his musical influences and his own observational skills into something uniquely his own.
His singing his accompanied at every turn by a stellar female voice whose efforts seconding him dig deeper into these songs than what his otherwise fine and emotive voice might have been able to go. They are particularly effective on songs like the opener “I’m Not Sleeping Anymore” that brings together his folk singer credentials with gripping rock/pop song dynamics. Much of this can be attributed to the effect strong drumming has on the song and later tunes, but there’s equally little question that the energy generated by this vocal pairing plays an important role in the album’s success. Better Angels continues to open strong with a string of deeply impressive cuts – “Here We Go”, “Method in the Madness”, and “The Writing on the Wall” show different sides to Durr’s songwriting character and ambitions, but they emerge sounding like part of the same artist and highlight his diversity within what is normally pegged as a limited style. “Here We Go” carries on with much of the same spirit as the first track and the middle song diverts from that some while still maintaining a memorable chorus. The final song of the three, “The Writing on the Wall”, is one of Durr’s more poetic turns on Better Angels and deeply satisfying.
One of the album’s most affecting moments comes with his songs directly referencing love, “To Believe in Love Again” and the later “I Believe in Love”. The titles imply we get two distinctly different takes on love, but they are definitely related in key ways. The first is a relatively straight forward folk singer meditation on the subject adorned with the bewitching violin work heard throughout the release. The second sounds like a near waltz and soars high on the wings of a beautifully woven tapestry of violin and guitar with drums setting the tone. “Beyond and Above” stretches the musicians and Durr’s songwriting talents in different direction as the song shifts gears at its mid way point and dispenses with its comparatively laid back beginning in favor of an inspired, energetic finale. The album’s finale “For a Songbird” rates as an elegant summation, of sorts, for everything that has come before while adding to Better Angels’ luster with a fine example of his talent for melodic sophistication and understatement. Better Angels, Durr’s fourth release, is his finest yet.