Are you ready for some rootsy acoustic folk, Americana, and any genre where the song is king? Where the plain-speaking singer/songwriter and his band create something organic, immune to overproduction, and without a single artificial ounce of autotune? Then allow me to introduce The Kenn Morr Band; specifically, their latest album (of 12), Still Shining. Featuring 11 solid, folk-ringing tracks, Still Shining is a pure, subtle offering of unrefined refinement. So, what makes this album so darn authentic and more than slightly magical? Let’s hit the highlights.
Wait. Who does what?
Guitarist and lead singer Kenn Morr started playing/performing at age nineteen, influenced by acoustic legends like Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, and Graham Nash. After a college baseball scholarship didn’t manifest, Kenn embraced a subject that truly reflected his talents – Communications. After leaving his home in Long Island and arriving in Connecticut, Kenn once again pursued his musical aspirations, and found the right folks to fill out the band of his dreams:
Tom Hagymasi – Violin, bouzouki, accordion, mandolin, mandola, vocals
Pat Ryan – Bass guitar, vocals
Tido Holtkamp – Drums, vocals
Now, about those highlights…
The album opens with “Cuttin’ Through,” a mid-tempo song about perhaps the final straw – something that causes a burden to ultimately, and finally, collapse. What I especially like is the ending – it’s a closely bundled cacophony of muttered lyrics that continue repeating until the song softly fades.
Kenn Morr’s voice has a lived-in quality; there’s a rough, rocky bass just underneath that whispery delivery. And it’s not the result of screaming, or too many cigarettes and far too much hard liquor – it’s something granted texture naturally by life, and the passing of time.
Track #3, the eponymous track, features an accordion foundation over almost wood-slapped percussion and layers of strumming acoustic guitar. This particular track deals with aging, and the seemingly abrupt loss of those who arrived some time before us:
“Everyone’s gone man, it happened so quick
Like a vanishing act in some old magic trick
These days can be even darker than night
Most of the wise ones already took flight.”
Track #5, “Angel ‘Round the Bend,” opens with what sounds like a clean electric guitar accompanying the usual acoustic layers. And there’s a great melodic mandolin line leading us right to the first verse. Thankfully, after the chorus, the mandolin returns with that great riff, joined by paralleling accordion, and guiding us to the second verse. We’re then treated to a nice break with violin, and a final verse with fading chorus. Good stuff, and my favorite track on the album.
“Flying High” adds what sounds like piano, which really fills the audible space on track #7. And when the chorus hits, it’s a joining of several voices and some interesting chord changes. This one’s a sleeper – at first, it was simply “nice,” but I discerned more of its spirit after repeated listenings.
“Something In the Air” begins with brighter guitar chords that make, I think, one of the album’s more powerful statements. And thankfully, it remains for most of the verses, and punctuates the end of most choruses.
The album closes with “Once or Twice,” a return to the folksy/pseudo-bluegrass/picking-instruments-on-the-cabin-porch sound permeating most of the album. And this one speaks about persistence. About the rocky road one travels, and about seeing – with a little experience-gleaned perspective – the futility, and perhaps humor, in a nonstop pattern of aspiring and burning. But the important moments occur while reaching somewhere deep, and rejoining the bumpy journey regardless of another potential collapse.
But is it good?
Do you like music that comes from people? People playing subtly amped instruments, and singing about the exploits – silly, sad, humble, impetuous or otherwise – of other people? And do you like this music to sound like music actually made by people, and not stacks of processors and electronic, unsubtle note bending? If you like music that comes from man, and from his life, land, and glorious, uproarious, and dependably fallible pursuits, you’ll love Still Shining from the Kenn Morr Band.
Below, you can read our interview with artist Kenn Morr, and listen to Still Shining by The Kenn Morr Band Check out our full music review of Still Shining here.
Q: Great to be speaking with you, Kenn! Your roots in both the NYC area and Connecticut since the early 2000s have you firmly planted on the East Coast. How do you feel your time spent in these locations has influenced your songwriting and musical development?
A: I grew up on Long Island. My mom loved the ocean. So as far back as I can remember our summers always involved the beach and the ocean. We would sometimes even go in the fall or dead of winter. Just to be near it. To this day the ocean/sea references appear in my writing. It represents so many things. I was also always drawn to living in the country. In 2000, right before our first son was born, we relocated to the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, in the northwest corner of Connecticut. We are living in the middle of nature, with all its wildlife including black bear, deer, coyotes, moose, mountain lions, etc.. It is a writer’s paradise. Each season presents a different kind of beauty and experience. The seasons seem magnified here. It’s an amazing cycle. We’re really spoiled. So, my surroundings greatly affect my songwriting as nature references naturally appear in my lyrics because I’m essentially marinating in nature. As far as my musical development, I’ve been blessed to work with top notch musicians from Long Island, New York City and Connecticut. My current band with multi-instrumentalist Tom Hagymasi, bassist Pat Ryan and drummer Tido T-Bone Holtkamp are the perfect musicians to be playing this music. Three of us have been together almost 15 years. T-Bone has now been with us five years. Tom’s been playing professionally since the early 70’s, T-Bone teaches drums by day and gigs at night and Pat studied bass at Berklee College of Music. Playing with them is ongoing musical development.
Q: You’ve mentioned that your musical career started at the age of 19 when you stepped away from playing baseball. Can you give us some insight into that transitional period in your life?
A: I was a right-handed pitcher who loved two things: 1. Baseball and 2. Music. I’d sit for hours in my room with an album open, lyrics out, record playing loud, reading the lyrics from all my songwriting heroes. I was fascinated with the idea those songwriters were conveying their inner-most thoughts and emotions through song! When I was a junior in high school my older brother, Gerry, would drive me to a local club (My Father’s Place,) and we’d watch The New Riders of the Purple Sage when they’d come to town from California. I even became friendly with the late John Dawson, their frontman. He loved the fact a high school kid was going out to clubs on a weeknight to watch his band! So, when my baseball career stopped abruptly at the age of 19, I realized my only other true passion or “calling” was music. I wanted to be a songwriter! I can remember the exact moment that occurred to me. So, that Christmas I got a cheap guitar, wrote my first song within a few months and then off I went.
Q: You have nearly a dozen full-length album releases under your belt, starting in 1989 and spanning through the present day with the release of “Still Shining” . How do you feel your music has evolved over time?
A: I’ve never really thought about the “evolution” process as it relates to my music. Each time I make a record it feels like a whole new project and experience. And in many ways, each record gets easier to record. So, there’s some evolution there, I guess. But the evolution is likely really in the writing. When I started writing songs, I was a 19 yo kid who had no idea what he was doing. I was just doing it. Writing about whatever,… just to learn the process and find my style and voice. Now, I’m married and father of two sons in college. By being a stay-at-home father, I basically got a second bite out of the apple, seeing the world through our sons’ eyes. That really informed my songwriting. And there’s certainly evolution in performance because being on stage becomes easier with time. There’s a lot less thinking and a lot more feeling. Especially with this band.
Q: How long did “Still Shining” take to record? What was the process like?
A: Next to our double-album, “Afterimage”, (which was basically four guys playing in a circle live in the studio,) “Still Shining” was my most effortless project. Tom Hagymasi and I rehearse once a week. Last winter, each week I’d slip in a new song onto our rehearsal list. He would learn it on the spot and then we would arrange it. The following week we would go over the arrangement and play the new song. Then, I’d introduce another new song and we’d play and arrange it. The next week, another new song… It went on like that for a few months to the point the two of us had eleven new tunes down cold. So, we recorded the basic rhythm tracks (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, mandola, piano and accordion.) And then T-Bone and Pat came in and effortlessly tracked their drums and bass parts simultaneously “live”. The only aspect of “time” was between the sessions due to some crazy schedules last spring. But actual “time” in studio was as minimal as it gets. Everyone was prepared before we went into the recording sessions.
Q: Your song lyrics often touch on introspective and life-related themes. How do personal experiences shape your songwriting and storytelling?
A: I started performing live as a solo act, playing cover songs. I never felt connected to those songs. They were great for learning how to phrase and sing and play guitar and handle an audience. But those songs were other people’s words. So, my connection to the songs wasn’t there. I realized writing and singing words generated through introspection and personal experience served me on several levels and at each phase of the process, from writing to recording to performing. Self-expression through music. It still feels like a miracle. There’s really no substitute for personal experience when it comes to writing. And once personal experience is in the song, the connection is there! Then, the challenge is bringing the listener along for the ride.
Q: What was your first guitar? Do you still have/play it?
A: My first guitar was a Christmas gift from my parents shortly after my baseball dream (of being Tom Seaver) ended. They knew I loved music and wanted to write and sing. Unfortunately, the guitar was from some catalogue and after a month the bridge and saddle tore right off the top of the instrument. So, I saved up some money and bought a Carlos, for only $150. Let’s just say it was a nice step up from that catalogue guitar but not in the same stratosphere as my current Martins. But it served its purpose. Got me hooked! It played some early shows with me. But one day the headstock cracked and started to pull forward and that was that. It is now in guitar heaven.
Q: Perhaps in some unspecified amount of time, your musical career explodes in the best of ways. What does that look like for you?
A: I would have answered this question in a much more fun way 20 years ago (laughs.) The simple answer: reaching many people. Either at our concerts or in their cars or homes or wherever! We really do aim to create something that makes the listener feel better after the music. So, reaching many people is what “explodes” means to me.
Q: You get to collaborate with anyone of your choosing. Who is it?
A: That’s a tough one. For me, writing has always been a solitary/personal process. But musically I’d love to collaborate with Mark Knopfler. Just have him step in and jam on one of my tunes with us.
Q: Your favorite album of all time? (Yup, you gotta choose one.)
A: You know that is an impossible question, right? Gotta say Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” album. It was the first album I ever bought. Rode my bike into town to get it. Still knocks me out. My true love of music all started right there, with “The Stranger.” Of course, I can list ten others…
Q: Your favorite song of all time? (Again, only one!)
A: That’s a moving target. Another impossible one. It changes sometimes by the week. But Jackson Browne’s “For Everyman” is a virtual masterpiece and that’s what popped into my mind. So, I’ll go with that one (today.)
Q: What would you like fans to know about you that they’re most likely unaware of?
A: We have two sons, Nolan and James, who I’m incredibly proud of. On every level. Nothing else really, truly matters to me.
Q: Any shout-outs you wanna make?
A: Yes, to anyone who took the time to read this! Thank you. And to all those folks who have supported us and booked us over the years, thank you! And to Jackie, my soulmate.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I really appreciate you taking the time and hope folks check out “Still Shining” and enjoy it. You can reach us via www.kennmorr.com
Cool Album of the Day
Larry Carta March 10, 2018
Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#964 in the Series) is The Kenn Morr Band “Along the Way.”
The Cool Album of the Day site went dormant for way too long. At times life interferes with life. One thing I’ve missed is finding cool little surprises in my mailbox. Yet once in a while I would still find a nice bubble wrapped package separating bills, coupon packets and info from the latest candidate that promises to make my life better.
However, every so often I’d still get one of those care packages. Every so often the content in said package is also a darn good listen. Can you believe that not every gift isn’t always good. Tru dat. The best ‘get’ that I ‘got’ in a long time was by The Kenn Morr Band.
One thing I always always do before I put finger to plastic when writing a new music review piece is to make sure that I’ve given it numerous listenings. I feel that you can’t be truly fair to an artist’s work on one visit. Put it this way from my Italian heritage perspective. An album is like a batch of home made pasta. It tastes better the next day after all the ‘gredients have blended. That doesn’t mean that you can’t draw something from the first listen though. Did anything jump out at you? Were you moved at all? Does it need salt or maybe more Parmesan?
One thing did jump out at me when I first listened to Along the Way. That was “If Roger Waters was to record an Americana album, this is what it would sound like.” I consider that a compliment. This album deserves passion buckets of compliments. It’s that good.
I find Kenn’s voice similar to Waters voice when Roger gives us the softer tunes. I find it very soothing and fits the music perfectly. Great vocalists sing what’s appropriate to the song. The music, which is driven by mainly acoustic instruments has a nice breezy feel to it. “Out of the Fast Lane and Let it Go” indeed. It’s weird to think that this came from a Connecticut based band. I wonder if they recorded it while being snowed in during another much too frequent ‘Nor’easter?’
This is music that will make you want to be at the beach. No, let me change that. I’m thinking more the evening, around a fire pit, sharing it with good friends. Maybe even while making smores with Roger Waters.
– Larry Carta
NOTEWORTHY IN NORTH COUNTY
Morr balance, better music
Kathryn Boughton November 13, 2017
Kenn Morr has crafted his life as carefully as he crafts his music.
The singer/songwriter, who has just released his 10th CD, “Along the Way,” has deftly balanced a career in music while holding tight to that most precious of commodities — his family life.
Morr reveals that in college, when he began his career as a musician, his goal was to become “bigger and bigger.” But marriage and fatherhood changed his perspective.
“Being dad comes first,” he said while sitting at his dining room table and awaiting the return of his younger son, James, at the end of the school day. “That’s why we tour largely in the Northeast — most nights we come home. If I (traveled further), I would miss these years.”
Morr’s studio is in his Colebrook home, a residence he and his wife decided upon in anticipation of the arrival of their first son, Nolan, now 16.
“It’s worked well to be able to work within a stone’s throw of my sons,” he said.
The fact he has limited the current scope of his career — despite his love for making music — says volumes about his dedication to his family.
“My musical career started after I stopped playing baseball after high school,” he said. “I found myself asking, what do I do now? I was in college, doing the responsible thing, but a voice kept saying that I always wanted to be a songwriter. Then I got a guitar for Christmas and it was life-altering.”
Like many artists, he had “a day job to fund my habit,” but he had found his true calling.
Now, at that vulnerable point when his children are teens, Morr’s latest album deals with “the feeling of time passing.”
“One reviewer said the album has a ‘bittersweet’ feel,” Morr said. “It’s about love, loss, life’s theme — my deepest and darkest thoughts put to happy music.”
Though the CD, released in the U.S. on Sept. 15, already has gained strong reviews in Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany, he said bad reviews would not have discouraged him.
“I feel there is little anyone can say that would hurt me,” he said. “I just get more and more comfortable with our band’s style, and this last CD was so comfortable to make. All the songs came to me within a year’s span and so effortlessly. If people don’t like it, they just don’t get it.”
His band is composed of Tom Hagmasi, Patrick Ryan and Bob Gaspar, who play a variety of instruments and provide vocal harmony, while Morr, with his slightly smoky baritone, is lead vocalist.
The songs, which include titles such as “Out of the Fast Lane,” “Footprints to the Sea” and “Along the Way,” all were recorded with the musicians playing together in one room, rather than contributing tracks from different studios, which is often the norm these days.
“There is no replacing that energy in a room,” Morr said. “The whole time I listened to the CD, I was smiling.”
To learn more or to order the CD, visit kennmorr.com.
Folk Words - U.K.
Tom Franks September 19, 2017
“Along The Way” The Kenn Morr Band - Let the music Wind You Down
Among its many vagaries life offers some certainties – they include the flow of memorable melodies and deeply-thought themes that permeate Kenn Morr’s mix of folk rock Americana. The latest album from The Kenn Morr Band, ‘Along The Way’ serves up a selection of laid-back warmth, involving softly embracing songs and pin-sharp observational lyrics. The instrumentation is as strong as ever, and like a few lucky artists (and good whiskey) Kenn Morr’s voice just gets better with age and the songs on ‘Along The Way’ are ample evidence of that – this is an album for those all too soon approaching winter nights, sit back relax and let the music wind you down….
It’s hard to pick ‘highlights’ because this is such a ‘complete’ album, not a single ‘filler’ in sight, every song in its right place and complementing each other start to finish. However, if pushed I’d mark out my favourites as: ‘Out Of The Fast Lane’, Along The Way’, ‘Blow Wind’, ‘Anywhere Will Be Your Home’, ‘Mr Wolfe’ and ‘Run Away’. Yes, there really are that many stand-out tracks.
The Kenn Morr Band on ‘Along The Way’ are of course the usual suspects, Kenn Morr (electric guitar, piano, harmonica, vocals) Tom Hagymasi (violin, mandolin, bouzouki, accordion, dulcimer, harmony vocals) Pat Ryan (bass guitar, harmony vocals) and Bob Gaspar (djembe, percussion).
Rock Times - Germany
“Along the Way” Album Review – Rock Times, Germany
Kenn Morr has been a frequent featured artist in our magazine. His new album “Along the Way” is his fifth album in the last nine years and follows previous releases “Worth Imagining” and “Afterimage” that were also reviewed by Rock Times Magazine. The American artist who lives in Connecticut produces and releases independently and features a band of Bob Gaspar (djembe, percussion) and Tom Hagymasi (violin, mandolin, dulcimer) who have been members of the band for quite some time. Only the position of bassist has changed in recent years however Pat Ryan, the newest member of the band, has established himself for many years.
Morr’s music is in the style of folk and Americana and it presents in a laid-back form and style. “Along the Way” begins beautifully with the relaxed “Out of the Fast Lane” featuring gentle accompaniment of bass, percussion and various stringed instruments. Where some of the older disks were not directly accessible these ten new songs immediately spread a cheerful, warm and earthy atmosphere. The voice and singing of the bandleader’s range is somewhat limited but radiates through depth and is very much at peace with the tone of the record. In other words one will happily listen to the man from the northeast.
Even the melodies this time are more skillful and bound to capture the ears of the interested music fan. Songs such as “Footprints to the Sea” provide a cool, natural foot-tapping swing which is immediately followed by the more thoughtful title song featuring strong background vocals from the start and roots-driven instrumentation and is my favorite song of the collection.
The thoughtful ballad “Anywhere Will Be Your Home” presents with fine mandolin accompaniment, djembe and Morr’s gentle harmonica. The album’s songs are characterized by their melancholy characteristics but are always positively optimistic. “Run Away” is upbeat while “Mr. Wolfe” bring a strong rootsy quality featuring the bouzouki. After starting quietly “Let it Go” shifts into high gear while “High Rollers” is quite pleasing to the ears. “Blow Wind” is a favorite for its loose, casual approach featuring cool instrumentation, sturdy refrain and arrangement. The bouncing “Try Me Tomorrow” forms a great melodic conclusion to a strong album.
Thanks to the quality of the songs, The Kenn Morr Band has delivered great work with “Along the Way”. The inclined music fan who can identify with Morr’s voice and has a penchant for cool, relaxing roots music will be very happy with this album. Great job guys!
Roots Time - Belgium
The Kenn Morr Band is a folk rock quartet from Colebrook, CT, consisting of singer-songwriter Kenn Morr (guitar, piano, harmonica), Tom Hagymasi (violin, mandolin, bouzouki, dulcimer and accordion), Patrick Ryan (bass guitar) and Bob Gaspar (djembe and percussion). In 2008 Rootstime became aquainted with the bandleader Kenn Morr through his solo album “Move On”.
Subsequent to “Move On” we have reviewed three of Kenn’s albums appearing under the group name “The Kenn Morr Band”: “Higher Ground”, 2010, “Worth Imagining”, 2012 and “Afterimage”, 2014. Recently we discovered the band’s brand new album “Along the Way” in our mailbox with a request for a review. We were happy to oblige.
The inspiration for the songs that Kenn Morr writes is influenced by still-active legendary songwriters including Van Morrison, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. The subject matter of his songs stems from everyday life and observations that surely relate to his listening audience.
The comparison we made in our previous reviews of KennMorr and songwriter Elliot Murphy certainly still applies to the ten songs on “Along the Way.” The opening track “Out of the Fast Lane” followed by “High Rollers” and “Footprints to the Sea” are as strong as Elliot Murphy’s songs. Kenn Morr, with his ever-soft and warm voice, should consider this comparison a great compliment as we are unconditional fans of such narrative songs.
Selecting other highlights from this album is an impossible task because there are no weaknesses on the CD. “Blow Wind”, “Let it Go”, “Anywhere Will Be Your Home”, “Mr. Wolfe”, “Run Away” and “Try Me Tomorrow” are of equally strong songs.
As if by chance when I received the new album “Along the Way” I was wearing a black Kenn Morr Band T-shirt (with white print) that Kenn sent me in 2008 with his album “Move On”. Almost ten years later, the quality of that T-shirt remains in perfect condition and it is pleasing that so many years later the quality of his songs has endured and even increased. It is a pleasure to hear these ten songs on “Along the Way” resounding in my living room so I am going to push the CD player’s replay button quickly.