Former punk-rock frontman (Fading Out, Rising Shotgun) and current poet and creative writing professor Brett Ralph turned his back on rock (more or less) a few years ago when he mounted the Kentucky Chrome Revue. Here, with a fluctuating pool of talented friends (Catherine Irwin, Will Oldham, Todd Brashear etc.), Ralph has explored his country muse, often incorporating lap steel and fiddle.
As a country songwriter, Ralph leans toward the outlaw tradition of David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings, but his poetry renders his songs considerably denser than even the most complex compositions offered by those two towers of the genre. Too, Ralph’s wordplay is occasionally more intentionally playful; “Kentucky Chrome,” for instance, is slang for duct tape (a throwback to Ralph’s punk roots, perhaps?), but that little bit of info isn’t explained within the story (in the title track) of a tragic young woman who runs away from home to a life of sexual misadventure that is interrupted by a suicide attempt.
Most of the songs, including “I Cry Easy” (a confession of sentimentality) and “Charcoal Grey” (an homage to a man’s best suit), embrace a fairly traditional, structural appreciation for country conventions. Elsewhere, “The Whole of the Law” and “Happened to Be” are nakedly confessional, offering a voice to a generation of misguided aging punks looking back on our third and fourth decades.
- Paul Curry