Kevn Kinney isn’t a household name, but some 15 years ago, when MTV embraced the videos for the Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ singles “Fly Me Courageous” and “Build a Fire,” he tasted fame. And it was mostly sour, he says. Kinney remembers the band’s commercial peak as a nerve-racking blur. “I walked around from 1986 to 1994 ready for a photo shoot,” he says.
The DNC frontman and chief songwriter grew up with a weight problem—he reached 300 pounds in the 11th grade and then dropped to 145 pounds at one point on a diet of speed and poverty. He juggled Island Records’ hunger for hits with its need for him to look marketable (i.e. skinny), both of which contributed to the band losing its way after peaking commercially with 1991’s Fly Me Courageous.
As the band morphed from a shining light of modern Southern rock to a nostalgia act—playing exclusively to its devoted followers in and around its Georgia home—Kinney established himself in folk and singer/songwriter circles with a trio of sparse solo records marked by sweet, idealistic lyrics.
In 2002, as Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ was winding down creatively, Kinney issued Broken Hearts and Auto Parts, a more electric set that explored what he calls the “weird midtempo song.” Now, with Sun Tangled Angel Revival, also the name of his new group, he picks up where his former band left off—before MTV and photo shoots.
“Since Broken Hearts, I just wanted to be able to branch off and start another rock band, one that didn’t have to play ‘Fly Me Courageous.’ I wanted to go back to a musical style that was more akin to Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ before we hit the crossroads. This record is more like the follow-up to MacDougal Blues [Kinney’s 1990 solo bow, on which he was backed by Drivin’ N’ Cryin’].”
Indeed, the new disc recalls early DNC through a mix of Southern-fried rock and acoustic story-songs, many of which find Kinney revisiting his Midwestern roots. “Baby I Just Wanna Go Home,” one of the first songs he ever wrote, finds him speeding down the highway with his newly licensed sister at the wheel. “Train Don’t Stop at the Millworks Anymore” could have fallen from the lips of a mournful Midwestern grandfather, lamenting the impact of NAFTA and the like on America’s heartland.
“Everything’s So Different Now,” is a 9/11 song disguised as a study of the changes that have come to Kinney’s Milwaukee neighborhood since he moved south in the early ’80s. “That’s a perfect example of what I like to do,” he says. “I try to take a political situation and totally not talk about it, and move it into something in my childhood or something like that. If you know me for long enough, you know I speak in analogies.”