Hello Again Kind Stranger
Review of Hello Again Kind Stranger (2008) by Bob Johnstone Singer-Songwriter Kyle Alden has left blank the iTunes "genre" listing for his new album, Hello Again Kind Stranger. That may well be deliberate, since the eleven songs on the album defy simple categorization. They run the gamut from folk, to rock, pop, country, and blues. You could call his music Americana, though Californiana might be a more accurate label, since Kyle hails from the Golden State. Specifically Marin County, spiritual home of the Grateful Dead and the San Anselmo Albino Squirrel Society (of which he is a charter member). Kyle's formative years were clearly the late sixties/early seventies, the golden era when popular music - broadly defined - was in it's prime. Hello Again Kind Stranger is a record made by someone who grew up grokking the likes of Harvest, American Beauty and Music from Big Pink. In addition to Neil Young and Jerry Garcia, you can catch echoes in these songs of Jackson Browne, Jesse Colin Young, Peter Rowan, and Jorma Kaukonen (in Mississippi John Hurt mode). There's even a playful tip of the hat to Brian Wilson (on Beach Guitar). And in true sixties style, the album's final track - Mockingbird Blues, with it's gorgeous melody a worthy addition to the canon that dates back to Inez & Charlie Foxx - features an extended, guitar-driven workout. But though in many cases you can detect their point of departure, the songs on Hello Again Kind Stranger are far from being mere derivatives. Kyle has long since absorbed and assimilated his sources, and given them his own, distinctive twist. Much on this album is utterly original. Especially the witty lyrics, with their left-field rhymes - eg, grimmer/ich bin ein Berliner - and well-turned couplets, like: I know a girl, she lives in two time zones/ One for when she's around, and the other when she's on the telephone Robert Hunter would be proud to have written that. Like Richard Thompson, another major influence, Kyle performs both solo and band versions of his songs. Check out the very different versions of Wedding Cake Smile, an infectious Thompson-style toe-tapper that crops up on both Hello Again Kind Stranger and Tangletown. (The latter is a mostly-acoustic companion-piece which among other things showcases the Irish facets of Kyle's music, largely absent here.) What you get with Hello Again Kind Stranger is a bunch of well-crafted songs, with catchy tunes, sung by Kyle in his gentle, plaintive voice. My personal favorite is Reckless Flame, a classic pop anthem that should by rights have been a hit single. The album is also immaculately made and played. A multi-instrumentalist, Kyle himself handles guitar, mandolin, fiddle, piano, and keyboards. He is ably backed by Scott Thunes on bass, Paul Revelli on drums, and above all by Robert Powell, a latter-day guitar god (who, had he been around in the sixties, would have been right up there in the axe pantheon with the likes of Clapton and Duane Allman) who also produced. Highly recommended.