A radio-friendly pop country rocker that crosses several musical genres
What if Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams got in a pickup truck and drove across America writing songs? Well, my money is on Lucinda stepping up to the plate if the truck broke down. But musically, Kevin Beadles is what that collaboration might sound like. His new CD, "You Can't Argue With Water", dabbles in Americana, singer-songwriter, and roots rock styles. Beadles is a versatile talent who writes thoughtful (and sometimes amusing) lyrics, and has a warm, well-controlled voice that is mighty easy on the ears.
There are lots of strong cuts on "You Can't Argue With Water", which starts with the perfect "Shine". "Shine" is a radio-friendly pop country rocker that crosses several musical genres, and boasts a catchy melody that allows Beadles to showcase how effortlessly he can drift into falsetto and back again. "Shine" is easily my favorite track, but there is lots more that I look forward to hearing time and time again. "High" is a sweet ballad made even more beautiful with a truly graceful and earnest vocal performance by Beadles. The mellow title track is another standout, featuring lyrics such as, "You can't argue with water, you can't reason with rain, it just falls where it wants to, and love's the same". Beadles kicks the blues rock into gear with a roadhouse tune called "Sharkskin" but, again, where he really 'shines' is on the ballads, "Caroline" being another example.
Beadles plays a sublime kind of music that you might hear coming from a Midwestern porch. In many respects, "You Can't Argue With Water" is cleansing, washing away the overly processed garbage that usually contaminates the airwaves, and nurturing our thirst for pristine talent. I recommend you check out Kevin Beadles if you like Ryan Adams, Billy Falcon, Chris Isaak, or Ellis Paul.
Kevin is a lyrical master craftsman who has clearly polished the words of each of these songs to a bright shine
Kevin Beadles' website asks "What if Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams got in a pick-up truck and drove across America writing songs" Beyond the probable discomfort of Mr. Costello’s wife, Diana Krall, about that road trip, I say that Elvis and Lucinda would have needed Kevin Beadles with them to generate the formidable, accessible, catchy, astute, sometimes poignant, interestingly-angled-perspective songs on "You Can’t Argue With Water." These are most assuredly Kevin Beadles’ songs, imbued with his strength, his musical and lyrical sense, his emotions, his vision, his humanity, his heart and soul.
What is noticeable overall on the CD at the technical level is the craftsmanship in the writing and the production. Intros are well-conceived, well-executed and well-recorded and mixed, each with a recognizable, engaging musical motif that leads you very willingly into the song. The songs themselves are memorable and I find myself singing them in my head as I go through my day. I am delighted to find that the musical hooks, which I learned to define as "the part you want to hear again" back in the day, are not just in the choruses or when the title is being sung; here the verses are musically interesting and engaging and melodically memorable on their own. The songs are connected stylistically, all showing Mr. Beadles’ keen melodic sense and timeless-yet-fresh-and-new harmonic underpinnings, and are thoughtfully ordered so that the progression of songs itself is meaningful and satisfying.
Kevin is a lyrical master craftsman who has clearly polished the words of each of these songs to a bright shine, and in fact, "Shine" is the first song on the CD, one of two obvious hits (I’ll get to the other in a moment) with its intensely hooky and catchy chorus and pulsing, forward-moving beat supporting its exuberant love theme. Yet this song packs quite a bit of dramatic punch with lines like "jealous eyes can’t bear to stare at something that’s not cynical and dark just like their jaded hearts." "Shine" gets on base quickly, as any leadoff hitter should.
The other hit is "High," the third tune, a slower, more stately two-step love-paean to a stellar woman sung by a mortal man. This gives me a chance to say that Kevin Beadles’ beautiful and versatile voice makes these songs at the emotional level, and here his delivery is at its best. You can feel the singer’s awe of the woman he deems to be above him; you can hear every nuance of how he feels as the melody ascends and soars "up to her sky." The chorus of "High" marks it as an obvious hit as I can’t get it out of my head, and I really don’t want to.
There are three songs on the CD that show strong humorous elements and even stronger heart and mind behind the jokes. The first, "Mrs. Jones’ Cadillac," is a country-tinged tune that paints a funny picture of a woman with a past who drives a hearse, but uses this comic image to bring out a serious point in the chorus, which is particularly effective in the way that it uses what may seem like pop fluff call-and-response between the lead singer and the background singers to deliver this character assessment and near-admonishment, rendered with Beadles’ signature at-an-angle quirkiness:
"Every grievance that she's nursed
(Every sorrow, every hurt)
Rides behind her in the hearse
(and it's only getting worse)
What you don't bury you carry along
But the stench gets a little strong."
"Sharkskin" is a pure rocker whose line "I found me a suit with a bad attitude" gives the flavor of the piece really well, and as is usual in these songs, the notion of a guy protecting his once-burned heart with a new suit and invoking the heartlessness of the shark makes the metaphor meaningful and almost poignant even in its clever hilarity.
The third comic work is "A Love Sublime," that has the dubious distinction of referencing The Carpenters ("Rainy days and Mondays always make the losers whine," and, happily, the end of the line undercuts the start) but actually may be the third hit of the CD as well, with its Buddy-Holly-sings-the-Beatles(-and-The-Association) bounciness. It is cynical about love without being dark (see "Shine," above) and actually also uses the word "shine" in the chorus, which points us back to the start of the album as this penultimate song on the CD plays off of the first cut in both language and theme.
One song, "Where We Come From," not so much comedic as grand in scope, alludes to British seamen and Civil War soldiers and finishes by talking about the Kevin Beadles band itself (even mentioning the lead guitarist, John Foster, by name and instrument) in service of the theme of knowing what the roots of some amalgamation of people are, because these alliances and their members are important. This gives me a chance to say that the playing on the CD, by Beadles himself, John Foster, the lead guitarist and harmony singer, and Kevin Harris on most everything else, including bass, drum programming, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars and some of the backing vocals, is tight, crisp, inventive, solid and cogently supportive of the songs and the vocals. Beadles and Harris produced the CD in tandem, and Harris, as always ultra-professional, musical and polished, was the recordist and mixing engineer. The high gloss on the CD is a tribute to the confluence of fine writing, arranging, performing and processing.
A number of the songs on "You Can't Argue With Water" are about someone who is missing or gone, about loss and a number of kinds of longing. "Caroline" is reminiscent of the Springsteen/Mellencamp, uh, camp, with its protagonist a small-town boy whose lover has headed toward the bright lights, and that's all I'm going to say about the song's plot. These are clever lyrics, and they make their emotional point in a spare but terse musical setting.
Following directly on the CD is "Happiness Is Small," a song I think is just extraordinary:
"Happiness is small
You hardly notice it's there until it's gone
But the hole that it leaves
Feels a thousand miles deep"
and those lines, the beauty of the music and the intensity of the falsetto are making it very quiet and still in and around me as I listen to it. I don't want to talk about it; I just want to hear it and I want you to hear it, too. It has a mighty heart-tug in it. What I can say is this: "Happiness Is Small" might be the title song, could proudly be the best song on someone else's CD, but on this one, unbelievably, it is not even in the top two.
That distinction goes, in my opinion, to the CD's actual title song, which I'll discuss in a moment, and to "A Prisoner In Chains," which is one of the tightest, clearest, most effective two minutes and thirty-four seconds I have heard in digital form. I know that "Prisoner" is a gospel song, so it has a religious reading as well as a romantic-love reading, and that Kevin says that it is "minimalist," and it does indeed use few short lines and simple chords to have its effect, but that doesn't explain how it uses an extended metaphor about courts and jails, set up in the first line ("If there were a prison for crimes of the heart"), to make such a powerful statement about love and redemption. If happiness is small, perhaps beauty is even smaller and more gemlike, and this [is a] beautiful gem of a song has facets of the pain of love and the pain of living as well as the uplifting grace of connection, both religious and human.
"You Can't Argue With Water" is quintessential Kevin Beadles, which makes it a perfect title song for his CD, both hooky and haunting. In it, the protagonist puzzles over a romance cut short and tries to explain it to himself and to us, concluding that sometimes, or maybe all the times, the reason love happens, or doesn't, is like the weather, is like nature, and will defy all attempts to bring it under the rules of debate and logic. The Beadles-drenched image of a man arguing with water is at once cockeyed, revealing and, in the end, the statement of a simple, sometimes exasperating truth that finally releases the protagonist from his fool's errand. Musically, this is just plain a monster hit; because it feels so good, you will not be able to stop singing it to yourself, and you may find yourself playing it for others so that they can not be able to stop themselves from singing it, too. And I'm sure we will all be spending less time arguing with water in the future…
That leaves us at the last song on the CD, "Indian Summer," a finely-crafted little reverie (with a lyrically and musically delicious first line: "A slow kiss, an unexpected thaw") about a love that its protagonist continues to treasure and hold on to, the way we try to hold on to summer itself as fall sets in, and the way that we find we want to hold on to this wonderful disk of music even as it comes to its close. It has a line, "Even now I still look back and wonder if I had a chance, the right words might have changed your mind," that connects this song to the bridge of "You Can't Argue With Water" ("Was there something I could do that would change her mind?") in the way it speaks about evanescence and the persistence of small regret.
You can't argue with mastery like this. Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello may be in that pickup truck out on the American road, but Kevin Beadles is most assuredly driving, and it is his songs that they will want to hear when they get back home.