During a year in which almost every artist in Texas has released a new album, there was no album I had been anticipating more than Drew Kennedy's Fresh Water In The Salton Sea. 2011 has seen new music from Stoney Larue, Jason Boland, and Cody Canada, among many other Texas Music favorites. This past Friday, the mailman didn't even get the chance to pull away before I reached in and grabbed the small manilla envelope from our mail box and rushed back inside. Unlike many of the "insiders" that got their hands on a copy in advance, I waited patiently for my pre-sale order to arrive 5 days before the official release date. Admittedly, I typically don't take advantage of pre-orders and will wait for a live show merch table to buy an album, but this wasn't your typical pre-order. No, it didn't come with a USB drive filled with exclusive artist content, a t-shirt or a koozie... It came with a novel. Yep - you read that correct... a novel. For those of you drawing a blank, its one of those 200+ page books you were assigned to read back during high school English. I carefully cut open my freshly delivered mail and there, for the first time in the history of music, an album was accompanied by a full length novel with the same title: Fresh Water In The Salton Sea.
The Album kicks off with "War With Myself" and immediately I knew I had gotten my money's worth. Having heard this song live a few months ago at the James Garnet, I mean, Josh Grider: Live at Billy Bobs CD Recording, I couldn't help but be taken back to that great evening of music. The album is Kennedy's fifth full length recording and it picks up right where An Audio Guide to Cross Country Travel left off. I dare you to show me a better song writer in the Lone Star State. "Vapor Trails" makes its sophomore appearance on a Drew Kennedy album, as it was the final track on the free release Alone, But Not Lonely. Kennedy includes three other songs from that live album he released around his 30th birthday in March 2010. "Stars In California," a co-write with Mississippi native Rob Baird fits in perfectly with the story in which Kennedy tells with his songs. The similar musical storytelling in "I've Got Some Leaving To Do" can only be truly appreciated after reading Chapter 14 in the novel. Track number five "We've All Got Our Marks To Make" is arguably my favorite on the album. Having heard this song countless times live, only with an acoustic guitar, it was a treat to hear the harmony vocals and musical arrangement which includes a saxophone midway through the song. Another highlight on the record, "Home To Me" is once again proof that Drew Kennedy is a force to be reckoned with. "AM Radio" takes you on a five minute ride along shotgun in the van to experience the endless miles of highway traveled after a gig.
Take a look at the video for song number 8 (The Captain and the Highway) from Mt. Vernon Recording Studio in Lubbock. The feather ring on Drew's picking hand looks a lot like the one Daniel Murphy picked up for $10 nearby the Carson National Forest in Chapter 19.
The final 2 songs of the album are as strong as the first. Both deliver powerful lyrics and a slow infectious melody. All 10 songs on Fresh Water In The Salton Sea fit seamlessly together. While its certainly not your typical "Texas Country" party CD, I would venture to say that it wasn't intended to be. With a somber yet thoughtful tone, this album is full of songs that are meant to be listened to and not just heard. As great as this album sounds, it is best appreciated and most thought-provoking after you've finished reading all 221 pages of Drew Kennedy's first ever novel.
A few things to note before opening this book... It is probably best enjoyed with your iPod nearby, so you can listen along to the songs as they are included between chapters. Also be prepared to stay up late, because you probably won't want to stop reading until you're completely finished. It's much like being at a concert where you just can't leave early until you hear the whole set. The book is written as short stories intertwined to create a longer narrative, but I personally didn't want to stop reading until it was over.
Drew writes this "non-fiction" story in first-person as a 29 (turning 30) year old singer/songwriter named Daniel Murphy. It is the story of an adventurous, surprising, sometimes funny and sometimes sad road trip across the West. Having heard a few of the tales included in the book by Drew himself at his shows; it is pretty clear that although Daniel Murphy is fictional - most, if not all of these stories are at least partially true.
Life on the road as a musician seems like a dream to most of us and reading this book makes you feel like you're in the passenger seat along for the ride. The characters that Dan meets along the way are exceptional and the stories that go along with his travels will leave you thinking about it all days later. From wise old bartenders and gracious motel owners to a stoned college kid and a mysterious old Indian man, it seems as if Daniel Murphy sees it all on the road.
If you're one of those that loves hearing the artists' stories between songs at concerts, then this book is a must. Drew gives us a small glimpse into life on the road and a great reminder of all that can be explored along the American highways. As the story closes, the message for me was pretty clear. Life on the road, living free of the "typical American dream" is really a dream of its own... but no dream is complete when you can't share it.
TXRDR Road Crew