From the Record Shelf: The O’Kanes “Tired of the Runnin'”

And Kieran Kane rolls on, with partner Rayna Gellert

Early in the plague time, she-plays-everything singer-songwriter Rayna Gellert emailed about a Caffe Lena live-stream gig with partner Kieran Kane. I didn’t know their duo music, but this caught my attention since Kane is the real goods. His Nashville major label duo with Jamie O’Hara called the O’Kanes was very damn good.

Wikipedia tells us:

The O’Kanes was an American country music duo, composed of Jamie O’Hara and Kieran Kane. Active between 1986 and 1990, the duo recorded three albums for Columbia Records and charted seven singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles (now Hot Country Songs) charts, including “Can’t Stop My Heart from Loving You”. Kane charted seven singles of his own in the early 1980s, and O’Hara won a Grammy Award for co-writing “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Ol’ Days)”, a hit for The Judds. After they disbanded in 1990, both members pursued solo careers, and Kane founded a record label named Dead Reckoning Records. 

O’Hara died of cancer on January 7, 2021 at age 70.

Wikipedia

The O’Kanes’ 1988 album “Tired of the Runnin’” had stuck in my mind mainly for just one song. So when Kane’s partner Gellert reached out, the synapses clicked, kinda obliquely.

Looking back I found a Gazette column (March 9, 2017), mentioning them as openers on a Sarah Jarosz show at The Egg. “Singer-songwriter-fiddler Rayna Gellert and Kieran Kane open. Indiana-born, former member of the Freight Hoppers and Uncle Earl, Gellert wrote and sings terrific tunes on her solo debut ‘Working’s Too Hard,’ co-produced with Kane. Once a member of under-rated Nashville supergroup the O’Kanes with Jamie O’Hara, and a summer Sacandaga-area resident, Kane opened, really well, for Jesse Winchester at The Egg in early 2002.”

I saw Kane do that show with the late, great Jesse Winchester (whom I first saw in Montreal in 1971 during his draft-dodging days) and met and liked him. 

So, I went to the CD shelves and looked in the Record Room/Temple of Music cabinets for that O’Kanes’ album. Nope.

Then I checked upstairs in the deeper (attic) archives. Again, nope.

So, then I hit the working library shelves in my office where Best Of’s and Greatest Hits stuff goes. Once again, nope.

By now, I really wanted that music again, as I recalled listening to it with the guys on an early gathering of now-long-running Adirondack music meet-up. Chas Hinckley of Cape Cod and Central New York wrote me about that O’Kanes album when I asked him about it recently. “I heard a little Dick Dale but also some Don & Phil (Everly), New Riders of the Purple Sage, and a few other bits of nostalgia.”

So I scratched around on-line, found and ordered it, not from Amazon. When it arrived, I anxiously opened and put it on right away and listened; you, know, the way we used to do.

And it hit me just as I’d hoped it would, both confirming my memory of how cool that half-remembered extra-fine song was. “Rocky Road” has that great lift-off instrumental break. But another tune that I hadn’t remembered at all hit me just as sweet: a cover of “Isn’t That So” by Jesse Winchester from his 1972 album. It’s a winner in almost anybody’s hands, as many covers attest.

By the way, for a positively overwhelming Jesse Winchester hit, try this video. I just KNEW that I loved Neko Case even before this, but I truly wanted to have her babies after I saw her tears as Jesse sang… But I digress.

Before loving up the O’Kanes’ “Tired of Runnin’” here, let me tell you about digging around online, like in my CD and vinyl shelves, for more recent Kane music. 

Kieran Kane and Rayna Gellert’s album “When the Sun Goes Down” released May 2019. Cover art by Kieran Kane

The Gellert and Kane website offers their two most recent albums; BandCamp and the Dead Reckoning Records site (the label Kane founded after the O’Kanes split) serves up Kane’s solo albums and collaborations with Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin (Both Kane and Kaplin were born in NYC.). 

The Kane and Gellert site also displays Kane’s paintings, moody works that share a subdued palette, as quiet as most of his music, with New Orleans artist (and my wife Ellie’s friend) Jan Keels. Keels tells stories by showing places and things as often as figures and faces while Kane paints people mostly. But I digress.

All Kane’s music shares a confident economy of expression and gesture. If you believe fully in every word and note, you can play and sing simply. This makes Kane both a compelling solo artist and an ideal collaborator. Instead of hot licks, his cool music gives space, a remarkable restraint considering his crew on “Dead Rekoning,” his 1995 solo debut and first release on his label, includes fiddler Tammy Rogers, bassists Roy Huskey Jr. and Glenn Worf, drummer Harry Stinson, guitarists Dan Dugmore and Mike Henderson, accordionist Fats Kaplin, percussionist Don Heffington – oh, yeah, and singers Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and “Somebody’s Darling.” These folks could burn down the barn, but Kane banks their flame and cooks on the embers.

His duets with Gellert – “Old Light,”  “When the Sun Goes Down,” “The Ledges” – portray a relationship, so solid it shows them looking together out at the world rather than at each other. This gives a quiet wide-screen view, tasty as any sound movie in recent memory.

Wandering through this more recent music brought me back to my first listen to Kane, and one that holds up very well indeed. This subtle master of understatement draws you in, every time.

Kane’s albums with fellow singer-songwriter Kevin Welch and he-plays-everything instrumental master Fats Kaplin – “You Can’t Save Everybody,” “Lost John Dean” and his solo album “Somewhere Beyond the Roses” are also about a shared vision, a deep connection among equals.

Drop the needle onto “Tired of the Runnin’” and you first think “Everly Brothers,” so tightly do Kane’s and O’Hara’s voices curl and twine on the opening track “One True Love.” Its gently insistent groove echoes the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One,” a cute and melodious pun.

“All Because of You” and “If I Could Be There” both reach further back, like how The Band distilled Appalachian folk ballads into new journeys over old roads. We know the folds of the land but not what’s around the next bend.

“Blue Love” may be the album’s most Everly song, and it’s deeper than just the harmony sound, a delicious constant through the album. It uses repetition and variation like main Everlys writers Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.

“Rocky Road,” the song whose memory spurred my quest to re-find this album, has a country-rock glide. It cruises into view next with a mid-tempo ease that makes me want to drive slower when I hear it, even though its cozy “Little Martha” Allman Brothers warmth has a delicious momentum. Jay Spell’s accordion, then Richard Kane’s electric guitar, gently rise in the cool dark, like a moon over a bayou and its reflection. For all the expert stringed-thing sounds on the album, Spell’s squeeze-box is its beating heart. Giving credit where it’s very much earned, the rest of the band is Roy Yeager, drums; and Henry Strzelecki, bass; with Kane playing mandolin and O’Hara, acoustic guitar.

“Highway 55” updates “Long Black Veil” to eerie, sad, mysterious effect, and here comes Spell again, swirling up high but framing a mood of stark tragedy that takes on a nightmarish clarity in “Tired of the Runnin’” – a beautifully apt pairing, a mini-suite of tears.

“In My Heart” also mourns a loss, another Bryant-like structure and sound; Is there any higher praise? 

“”I’m Lonely” rocks string-band blues style, with a “Rocky Road”-like lift-off, but feels more contained; a fine set-up for the album’s only cover: Jesse Winchester’s slow-burn blues “Isn’t That So,” a Gospel shuffle.

Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara made “Tired of the Runnin’” in that pre-Americana age when Nashville pickers slipped out of the Grand Ole Opry countrypolitan lock-step to play bluegrass and jazz, as if for just themselves and therefore with consummate skill and joy. That’s why it’s lasted better than commercial country of that time.

It goes deeper, it goes further, and it gets there easy, with no fuss.

It’s perfect without feeling stuffy or pristine, so even messy feelings come in elegant packaging, without ironic distance. 

And we can hear Kane and Gellert in the here-and-now (hear and now?) when they play live Friday, March 12 from the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph, Vermont. 7 p.m. Tune in here.

Thinking about Patti Smith

When friend and fellow Mountain Music Club member Dan from coastal Massachusetts recently sent a link to The Guardian newspaper’s Patti Smith profile, the powerful poet-singer came into sharper focus than that background awareness her 1970s work earned. It’s a good overview, in the U.K. paper’s ongoing series recommending entry points into recording artists’ work.

I came late to that party, but the admiration of others, particularly musician friends brought me back to her like the Guardian story. Link, below.

One musician fan, New Yorker City kid Tom Dimopoulos, led a highly theatrical 1980s punk band here called bx721, after its post office box. He told me about seeing her early on, in lower Manhattan. Coming up out of the subway into the light of daybreak on his way home, uplifted by her show, he felt inspired to believe more strongly in himself and his possibilities than he ever imagined. That feeling has powered his art ever since. bx721 was a hoot, fronted by Jack Nemier who wore an electric suit – conventional office garb glittering with hundreds of tiny Christmas tree lights. Dimopoulos now lives in Saratoga Springs, works mainly as a scribe and shows up often at the same concerts I do.

Another musician/Patti Smith fan is Michael Eck, sometime music writer, former publicist and now marketing writer for the Oregon musical instrument crafters Two Old Hippies. He revered her and once got to play a show with her. More than the late great Greg Haymes, more than I, Eck was a tough crowd when writing about music for the Times Union. After seeing Billy Ray Cyrus in his “Achy-Breaky Heart Days,” Eck wrote, “I bet Billy Ray Cyrus voted for the fat Elvis stamp” – best lead I ever saw on a concert review. He said Patti’s close-up presence empowered him in much the way Tom D. describes.

Michael Stipe (ex-R.E.M.) is another fan. He turned up, surprising the audience, at her show last year in New York’s Webster Hall. Stipe told Ethan Kaplan of a Smith fan site that he discovered Smith at 15 when her “Horses” album hit him hard. The album, he said, “tore my limbs off and put them back on in a whole different order. I was like ‘Shit, yeah, oh my god!’ then I threw up.”

Now, that’s a fan.

As Rolling Stone reported in January, Stipe also has objected to trump using R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” as his rallies and that he once told trump off for talking during Smith’s set at a late-90s benefit at Joe’s Pub in New York. Stipe told him to “shut up” and trump left instead. But I digress.

I’ve seen a handful of Smith shows, most notably at MASSMoCA in N. Adams, Mass., early in that venue’s history; and at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. MASSMoCA was really lucky, or discerning, setting the stage for Wilco’s Solid Sound and FreshGrass festivals. Their first-ever show was by Los Lobos. I wrote in the Gazette that, “Los Lobos played the first-ever concert at MASS MoCA on Memorial Day weekend in 1999, masterfully christening a performance space that shouldn’t work half as well as it does. They played in a (13-sided) courtyard surrounded by brick and glass walls that I expected to echo the music in all directions, a cacophonous blur.” 

Smith’s show there a year later confirmed the place worked for music. Her setlist: 

One Voice

Beneath the Southern Cross

Boy Cried Wolf

Dancing Barefoot

Lo and Beholden

Spell

Dead city

Don’t Say Nothing

Because the Night

Pissing in a River

Gone Pie

Strange Messengers

Be My Baby

Glitter in Their Eyes

Free Money

Dancing Barefoot

Pissing in a River

Be My Baby

Free Money

Land/Machine Gun/Gloria

As for Patti Smith at Jazz Fest, I love seeing stuff happen there that’s outside the New Orleans tradition or sound, and watching it work anyway; including Richard Thompson and, surprisingly, Tower of Power. Both debuted there in 2008, my first Jazz Fest; I saw Smith play there in 2013.

Patti Smith at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, May 2013. Michael Hochanadel photo

However, I missed a mid-70s Smith concert at Union College Memorial Chapel. Michael Patnode (class of 1977), reported in a college mag, “Another concert we booked was Patti Smith, whose appeal we thought was more confined to the New York City area. A large number of black-clad audience members appeared on campus, showing us there was a hunger in the area for a diverse range of programming.”

I like the moral force of Smith’s shows. I’ve always liked the band, too. Maybe the most New York ensemble this side of the Ramones, Willie Nile borrowed some of her guys for his first albums and tours. She has that thing I admire most. When she steps onstage, you know in your soul that she means it. And she somehow gives other artists (Stipe, Dimopoulos, Eck) permission to mean it, too.

In this, I see her as a sort of lesser Bob Dylan – professional poet, amateur rocker, masterly persona, towering inspiration – until they welded those parts together so tightly we can’t see the seams any more. Dylan may be better – or, was – at the creative component of myth-making, but she became his equal in self-promotion.

I haven’t kept up with her records since the earliest ones. When I get them in the mail, I put them on the listen-shelf for later and sometimes take years to retrieve and listen to them. Maybe she deserves more immediate attention, as Stephen, host of the Mountain Music Club, has suggested.

Though I’ve enjoyed her books “Just Kids” and “M Train” maybe more than her later albums, when I grabbed some recently she opened my ears again.

I started at the beginning and leaped forward with “Patti Smith Horses/Horses – Legacy Edition.” This two-CD set stands her original 1975 album alongside a 2005 live show of the whole album in London’s Royal Festival Hall – to thrilling effect. 

The original has the home-made fervor that made punk so exhilarating, inspired amateurs blowing past rules of composition, arranging and performance they hadn’t taken time to learn yet.

The live versions, 30 years later, retain all that adrenaline, plus assurance. We hear obvious differences in craft. Her voice has thickened some but still soars and she whips it just as hard. The band plays better but respects the original arrangements. 

Both versions of her first songs stand tall with undiminished conviction, a now-weathered but still defiant optimism. The originals rise from the lower Manhattan CBGBs funk-frantic fog on the effortless faith and impatience of youth. The later live ones carry something harder and smoother, polished by effort and endurance, stoic and earned over time.

If the deluxe two-CD decades-apart “Horses” testifies to her enduring relevance; so do “Trampin’” (2004) and “Twelve” (2007) – in effect another two-fer. “Trampin’” is originals, “Twelve” is covers; both made with guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, with her from the first; plus bassist Tony Shanahan. (Original bassist Ivan Kral [1975-78; “Horses,” “Radio Ethiopia,” “Easter” and “Wave”] died in February. Guitarist Tom Verlaine [Television] and bassist Flea [Red Hot Chili Peppers] guest on the live “Horses” 2005 tracks. Guitarist Oliver Ray joined the Patti Smith Group on “Trampin’”. But we digress.) 

Here, let me yield to Robert Christgau – greatest record reviewer in print. 

Trampin’ “No, she hasn’t regained her sense of humor, but aren’t you fast losing yours? ‘I’m no Sufi but I’ll give it a whirl’ makes light enough of the mystic path her political obsessions follow. And if sometimes her hymns vague out like ‘Trespasses’ or over-generalize like ‘Jubilee,’ the boho reminisce of ‘In My Blakean Year’ represents where she’s coming from, the sweet solemnity of ‘Gandhi’ and ‘Peaceable Kingdom’ sings the sacred, and the amateur-Arabist rant-and-release of ‘Radio Baghdad’ speaks poetry to power. It won’t prevail. But it’s a comfort. B+”

The stand out “Trampin’” songs for me have a lighter touch than the machine-shop rockers: the guitar chiming “Cartwheels,” the relaxed stroll of “Gandhi” and “Trespasses,” the cozy atmospherics of “Peaceable Kingdom.”  “Radio Baghdad” gives both, a Cowboy Junkies intro to a punchy build echoing “The Other One,” down to a recited lament, then a re-rant, then back to Cowboy Junkies’ tree-lined Toronto. The title track maps a pilgrimage to hard-won peace.

Twelve “Three decades after Smith made the transition from poet to rock & roller, we still don’t think of her as a singer, exactly — more a reciter who can carry a tune, kind of. So a covers album showcasing her interpretive gifts is a questionable vehicle. And like most such albums — there are dozens by now — it’s somewhat hit-or-miss. But when Smith hits, it isn’t just a bull’s-eye — the arrow splits the apple and then brings down the bad guy hiding behind the tree. It takes a poet to extract the lyricism of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced?’ from its guitaristics and an avant-gardist to validate a middlebrow tour de force like Paul Simon’s ‘The Boy in the Bubble.’ And though other winners are more obvious, you’ll be convinced that this woman felt ‘Gimme Shelter’ very deeply — and many years later, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ too.”

OK, these are can’t-miss tunes, time-tested by a billion radio plays; but that doesn’t mean every cover will work. These do, for the same reason the 2005 live “Horses” tunes are good as the 1975 originals. She means it, in an act-her-age way. That’s more important and powerful than how she pans her voice left to right in the same cheap-trick-but-it-works way that Hendrix does in “Are You Experienced?” – great guitar noise, too – оr sings a mix of pinched pop staccato and poet’s flow in “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” against Kaye’s Jerry Garcia-like curls and swirls. We might quibble with her mannered, too-on-the-nose Neil-isms on “Helpless,” but she can do Mick all day long on “Gimme Shelter” and even gets the soul bounce of “Pastime Paradise” – love Shanahan’s James Jamerson bass-isms there, too. 

She knows just what to do with these songs she loves as much as those who made them, and those of us who wore out our vinyl originals.

We’ve talked mostly about the sound of her music, but what about the sense of it, the message and meaning?

Four words: “Power to the people!”

Patti Smith is still a punk, a poet, a provocateur. She still feels like coming into the sunlight from the subway – or up from troubles, from confusion, from doubt. 

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jun/10/patti-smith-where-to-start-in-her-back-catalogue?