“You get what you pay for, and sometimes it’s bad.” So sings Stephen Kellogg on his seventh solo album, during the shiny folk-rock waltz of “The Best.” As it turns out, he’s very much right.
As a singer/songwriter, Kellogg’s paid his dues for two decades (both on his own and with his band, The Sixers). He’s the kind of veteran performer who knows his target audience intimately, and Blunderstone Rookery won’t ruffle any feathers. It’s tuneful, breezy, twangy, generic—the kind of inoffensive songwriting that works equally well at a Nascar tailgate or a mindless Fourth of July cook-out.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t a level of craftsmanship involved: Kellogg’s best songs revel in the tradition of open-road souls like Jackson Browne and Tom Petty, romancing the minute details of everyday life through tangible imagery and toe-tappin’ choruses. Opener “Lost and Found” perfectly condenses all of his strengths, pairing a lovely melody and hopeful, blue-collar lyrics with haunting production flourishes (a hint of a choir, a flicker of organ).
But when Kellogg puts his “aw-shucks” mentality in the forefront, the songwriting derails into cringe-worthy cliches. “Some days are like candy, some like refried beans,” he sings on “The Best.” “Some days just relentless and drill-sergeant mean / But if you’ve got your health and your soul still intact, that’s as good as the best day that you’ll ever have.” Meanwhile, “Men & Women,” a pleasant enough Americana jangle, is marred by an especially clumsy gender conceit: “If all the boys went missin’, there’d be a lot less wars,” he sings over banjo fills and acoustic strums, “But who’d do the fishin’? Who’d drive those muscle cars?” Oh, the horror!