Kevin Gordon has been around for quite a while, but you may just be hearing his name for the first time. The prolific singer-songwriter has just released what many critics are lauding as his best record yet, Long Gone Time. It is impossible to disagree with this praise when you hear the intimidating intricacy of his songwriting. He’s peerless in his ability to turn vivid, detailed narratives into gorgeous, bluesy Americana tunes that play out like an epic novel. Time is a stunner, and deserves every bit of love that comes its way.
Gordon is an authentic writer, and though his songs often focus on the banalities of blue collar life in the South, his deep appreciation for literature and the art of language does not go unnoticed in his music. He paints vivid visualizations with words, of being down on your luck or stuck in your own head. He employs dark humor and sings heartbreaking truths about life that anyone could relate to, regardless of background. Whether he’s singing about what it’s like to sit in a bar after the shittiest day ever (“All in the Mystery”), or describing his physical surroundings with such great precision as to literally transport you there (nearly every song on Time), Gordon is a master songwriter.
“Letter to Shreveport” is one of the darkest songs on Time, and would have been right at home on the first season of True Detective. The guitar notes slog along so gorgeously, as if being dragged through molasses, and Gordon’s voice is hushed and pained. “Black ink between blue lines/Still got some people there/Still see ‘em in my mind,” he sings. Even the most basic action – dropping biscuits on the stove – is ominous and stormy. Gordon perfects the atmospheric and foreboding tone here, and the way the bluesy guitar slinks through the heavy, low arrangement like a brightly colored snake in a gray swamp is enough to send shivers down your spine. A nightmarish song that’s simultaneously dreamy, it offers up the album’s most crucial lyric: “Don’t let ‘em mess with your music/Keep it real, keep it free.” Undoubtedly, this is a lesson Gordon has manifested in his own work since.
“Church on Time” is a brighter contrast, but no less smartly crafted. A buoyant, Southern charmer, this tune tells the familiar, deeply American tale of religious guilt. “Preacher drive a Lincoln/Deacon drive a ford,” sings Gordon, bluesy and low, setting the scene of this particular house of worship. When the piano oozes in, it adds a cheekily sinful barroom feel, calling to mind a bunch of church strays getting together in a confessional group where they drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes, instead of praying at the altar. Gordon sings of working class struggles and religious manipulation, but without condemnation or condescension. Instead, his main character is weak in the face of temptation and incredibly raw and human. “I want to stay true/But somehow I always find/The sweetest fruit on the vine,” he sings. In this song, the church sends him a letter telling him they’re praying for him because he’s missed so many masses. Ironically, this is the best song on the record to shake your ass to on the dancefloor.
“This place is just concrete split with weeds,” Gordon sings on “Cajun with a K”, a song about the town that time forgot, where “decay takes its own saccharine time”, and that offers little more than “coffee, cigarettes and fishing line”. This is a town that sucks folks in and traps them, aside from the “occasional college rock band/In search of a gritty urban vibe/For their promotional photograph,” as Gordon so aptly describes. This song is almost like spoken word poetry, as he so unpretentiously paints pictures with his phrases. He leaves us feeling so deeply ingrained in the goings-on of this place and the people who inhabit it. It’s a place we’d never go, but feel thankful to Gordon for taking us there.
But the true masterpiece of Time is “Walking on the Levee”. Though it’s the least bluesy on a record that’s heavy on the blues, it’s a beautiful country song that immerses us, as listeners, fully into the mind of Gordon. The setting is a simple morning stroll on a levee, but it creeps up on you unexpectedly:
In that big house last night where I played my guitar
Everyone’s still sleeping off what they drank at the bar
Or are they making quiet love ‘neath the turning of a fan—
Did they wake to the sound of dogs barking at a man?
I grew up down the road, it’s been 40 years
Walking on the levee now, I’m a stranger here
Read the graffiti on the pump station wall:
“I heart Amber” in a red sprayed scrawl
“Did you ever have a dream you’re sure was real?”
“What does God hide—what does God reveal?”
Memories that still find their place in the present, and feeling haunted by ghosts of his past, Gordon deftly captures his inner monologue. We all have these intricate dialogues in our heads, especially when revisiting places that hold meaning to us, but Gordon has the unique ability to lay it out in front of us, no matter how ugly. He’s the type of guy you want to have a long conversation with all through the night, sharing beers and just listening to him. He’s a storyteller.