A real treat was unleashed on the world this week as Kevin Scarbrough released a new album. Kevin has appeared as a band member or Radio Free Charleston and is very well-regarded as a filmmaker, but I had no clue that he was this talented a songwriter.
This collection was recorded by Kevin at his home studio over the course of the last two years, with some of the tracks mastered by Aaron Fisher.
Aside from the mastering assist, this is a one-man show, with Kevin handling all the vocals and instruments. Birthright is a diverse collection of exceptionally well-crafted pop songs, touching on several different styles of music. His singing and playing is top-notch and the production does not betray its home-brewed origins. There are some really ambitious productions included here, with string and horn arrangements that give the album a sound unlike any other locally-produced album that I’ve heard.
The opening title track is an exquistely constructed pastoral pop tune that recalls the more mellow work of XTC, during their “Skylarking” period. The lyrics are sung in a lovely, laid-back manner that belies their biting content. This is a really impressive opener, which doesn’t really hint at the eclectic mix of tunes that Scarbrough has assembled here.
This is followed by “She Likes To Dance,” which is straight-up intelligent dance music, not unlike that propogated by the legendary ZE Music label in the 1980s.
That doesn’t prepare you for “Unfriended.” I would almost swear that Scarbrough whipped out a Ouija board and summoned up the spirit of Shel Silverstein to help write this country-leaning lament of relationships in the age of Facebook. It’s a hilarious gem.
Continuing his mastery of many styles, next up Scarbrough brings us a moody, atmospheric ballad, “June.” This is followed by the mellow, shuffle-stomp, “Make it.”
“Hey Melody Maker” flirts with art-rock before settling into a funky urban grove with a slow rap delivery. “Move on” is a delicate guitar-based ballad.”Divorce” is another Silvertein-esque novelty country stomp with very amusing lyrics.
“Jimmy Burned Bridges” is a classic story-song, with Gram Parsons feel to it. This one in particular would make a great short film (or music video). Scarbrough’s writing has a cinematic quality to it, probably a natural result of his work as a filmmaker, and that elevates these songs to a whole new level.
“Gene The Hater” is a hard-to-describe funky little number with hilarious lyrics about that person we all know who feels the need to crap all over everything.
What’s amazing is that, even with such a wild spectrum of styles, Birthright holds together as a cohesive album. Scarbrough has created a real throwback to the days of the record album as an artistic statement. Without a “concept,” Birthright is still a vital and singular artistic statment. It’s like finding a lost album where Warren Zevon and XTC teamed up in their prime.
That it’s a one-man show makes it all the more impressive. You can download the album for a mere five bucks at Bandcamp, and you should be able to sample it below.