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Kinky Friedman delves into the darker side of life for his first studio album in 39 years.

Music Review: Kinky Friedman – ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met’

Kinky Friedman has not made a new studio album in 39 years. Until now.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ Larry D. Moore
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Larry D. Moore

Oh, he’s been around. He’s been performing, writing crime novels, running for Governor of Texas, touring with Bob Dylan, recording with Clapton and Ringo Starr, and generally continuing to be the stogie-waving, outrageous “Texas Jewboy” he set out to be all those years ago.

Now he’s back with a new album, and it is a good one, but don’t be expecting songs like “They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore.” Think more along the lines of “Sold American,” with its sad story of a former country star who hits hard times. That’s the tone of this collection of original songs and covers – about the darker side of life.

Friedman is helped on the album by Willie Nelson, Nelson’s sister Bobbie, and Nelson band member Mickey Raphael. He and Nelson do a marvelous duet on Nelson’s own “Bloody Mary Morning” to start things off. The song features Kevin Smith on standup bass as well.

Other songs on the album include numbers like Dylan’s haunting “Girl From the North Country,” Tom Waits’ heartrending “A Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” and Merle Haggard’s “Mama’s Hungry Eyes.” Then there’s Friedman’s own “Lady Yesterday” and “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.” The whole theme is one of loneliness, despair, and regret.

Given the evocative vocals, you may at points feel like weeping while you’re listening. And as for Warren Zevon’s song about his terminal illness, the title of which I can only render here as “My —‘s F— Up,” that one will tear you apart if you aren’t too offended by the language and actually listen to what the lyrics are saying.

It’s a downer, all right. But Friedman explains why in the press release:

“A happy American creates nothing great. My definition of an artist is someone who’s ahead of his time and behind on his rent. … Look at what shape Willie was in when he was writing in Nashville — he had three little kids and was just broke, living in a trailer park. Willie wrote ‘Night Life,’ ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ and ‘Crazy’ all in one week — a terrible week in his life.”

He goes on to add that this is what country was all about before it became “homogenized and trivialized and sanitized.” In other words, Friedman was interested in conveying real, true human emotion, and that is one thing he is very good at indeed.

Surprising entries on the album are Johnny Cash’s tune “Pickin’ Time” and two songs from an earlier era of American pop music, “A Nightingale Sang on Berkeley Square” and “Wand’rin Star,” a song that has just appeared on a commercial and so may be back in the American consciousness.

The inclusion of these songs makes the album seem a bit odd and off-kilter, and that was probably Friedman’s intent. It works, in a weird way. While this writer does miss the outrageous humor of Friedman’s older recordings and his performances, the album does touch the heart and stir the emotions. It is recommended for those who believe that, as Elton John once sang, “Sad songs say so much.”

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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