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24 June 2010 @ 09:29 pm
Bp's Song of the Week #84: James Kinne "Touch the Ground"  
It’s the memories tied to a particular song or album that determine where it lands in your personal library. That’s how the soundtrack to our lives is compiled. As my daughter was singing her heart out to The Carpenters’ “Top of the World” this weekend (thanks to the Shrek Forever soundtrack) I wondered what were the first songs in my library. I know that my first purchase was Tom Petty’s “Change of Heart” on a 7” vinyl single and Rush’s “Exit…Stage Left” was my first full-length cassette (I had good taste, even at 9 years old!), but what were the songs I used to sing early on in my childhood?

I remember loving the Golden Books compilation record with Five Little Firemen and The Smurfs All-Star Show, but as far as listening to songs over and over and over again, my first memories are of “Angel of the Morning” and “The Tide is High” repeating while playing Nerf basketball for hours in my room. That memory triggered hours of playing basketball in the driveway to Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City” with Miami Vice dialog mixed in (if anyone has this version, please let me know as I’ve casually looked for years on youtube and elsewhere, but always come up empty). I didn’t watch the show, my brother did, but I loved that version of the song.

The reason for this week’s tangent is because I’d love to write about a track from James Kinne’s release from last year which made the #2 spot on my year end list of my favorite albums of the year. It’s a brilliant record that was born from a dark place, full of pain and heartbreak, an emotional catharsis; art being created as a means to understanding life and it’s twists and turns. But the memories I have tied to James’ music come from earlier in his career when I was able to see him perform more and I’m always drawn to writing about “Touch the Ground” or “Candle” or something that has been more from the soundtrack to my life.

His music means too much to me to toss a song out without comment, but I feel as if I can’t comment as well on something from his last album because my memories of that album are tied to solitary listens: floating with him musically on a boat taking me through an extremely difficult time in his life. The songs were written and recorded during the healing process. It’s probably his best overall work to date, but I almost feel as though it’s too much to look that deep on first listen….you slowly acclimate your eyes instead of looking directly into the sun. It’s not to say those songs aren’t universal, they definitely are, but they are so deeply personal, but….see, this is why I’ve struggled with this SotW for so long.

I can write more directly about his songs that have been my soundtrack for years.…..I think in not being able to discuss the record I’m now discussing it and in turn totally contradicting my original thesis, but I’m going to plow forward.

There are a couple of tracks in the “more” section below from his last album. I strongly suggest that you take a listen, but I’m going to write about something from his catalog.

It was a chilly January 2004 evening in downtown Albany and my wife and I were excited to catch up with James and see him at the Larkin Restaurant. He had some new material recorded and invited us to his car before his set to listen to the new tracks. There were three that he played, but I was floored by the first, “Touch the Ground,” so much so that I had chills all over my body for the rest of that night and they lingered through the weekend. It was a departure for him, he never was easy to pigeon hole, but there were sounds that were new - the piano through a guitar amp (if I remember correctly), more aggression, but still that yearning and searching vocal. And the vocal leapt from the speakers as the track started:

James Kinne
"Touch The Ground"
Click on the Play arrow next to Track #5: Touch the Ground

All at once I found, I could not touch the ground
I tried to fly high, but I got lost in the sky
Feel me reach out, close my eyes and hold me down
All at once I found, I could not touch the ground
I could not touch the ground…

Drums kick in, the bass slowly comes in, harmony vocals accentuate certain words…

All at once it seemed that this had been a dream
When you said “James, I don’t think it’s what it seems”
Open your heart and I’ll hit that wall again
All at once I found, I could not touch the ground…

…and then the chorus kicks in with a guitar sound that was so left field for James that it was like a kick in the gut. Raw and encompassing. The piano accents are so disturbing, they add so much to the overall song, dimension and they keep you shifting in your seat because they don’t fit, but they sound so good. Now this isn’t as ground-breaking as A Day in the Life, but for a singer-songwriter who, while never boring, stale or stuck in a rut, didn’t venture too far afield from a certain sound dynamics, this was bombastic. It was a departure from his first two releases.

All at once I saw, all the pain I caused in you
When I stepped back, and got a different view
Tossing at night, now the thunder’s the only sound
All at once I found, I could not touch the ground…

At 2:11 it shifts
Feel my hands and take your time
Don’t waste another minute of time…

2:40 another downshift again it slows down with the piano, that chilling, biting, and unsettling piano
3:22 just the hi-hat entry here is dramatic and dimension adding to the stark and gorgeous vocal section
3:30 this wall of sound floored me after the gracefulness of the preceding section
3:52 one of James’ strengths is the ability to use vocals as another instrument, layering non-lyrics to create a great additional layer

It was raw and jumped from the car speakers…I think I asked him to replay it 3 times.

Usually at a show I’m a sponge, but it was a blur for me. That night was all about that song, in that car, and the physical chills I received from hearing it. “Touch the Ground” is one of many songs in the soundtrack of my life that I’ll always remember. What sets it apart is that it’s one of maybe 5 or 10 that have ever had such a deep impact on me upon initial listen. I can remember my finger on the side of the dashboard, stumbling back to the venue, mumbling to myself as Dawn and James were talking about something and feeling physically and emotionally weak. I had just been mugged.

More James Kinne:
2009 Aletheia CD - center of page – Play “3 A.M.” or “This Side Of”
Candle - Play track #9
Stumbling in Backwards - Play track #4
Here On Out (live on TV)