Kyle Alden, “Down in the West Vol. 2” • Californian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Alden has had quite the wide-ranging musical career, one that covers pop and rock as well as folk, but his Irish cred is not in doubt: He has played with the likes of Tommy Peoples, Paddy Keenan, Liz Carroll, and Athena Tergis and hosted regular sessions in San Francisco and environs. Alden has also explored the Irish-American musical relationship in quite inventive and thoughtful ways, notably his 2011 release “Songs from Yeats’ Bee-Loud Glade,” in which he set 13 W.B. Yeats poems to his distinctively Americana melodies – by conspicuously avoiding attempts at “Irishness,” Alden’s adaptations made the emotional and spiritual qualities of Yeats’ poems seem all the more universal.
“Down in the West Vol. 2” (along with its first volume) has a similar feel – soft mandolin riffs and acoustic guitar strokes under Alden’s laidback, mid-range vocals, with the occasional bass, electric guitar and backing vocals. Most of the songs and tunes are Alden’s (one exception is the W.H. Auden poem “As I Walked Out”) and there’s a bucolic character to them, evoking small-town crossroads, quiet pastures, and lonely prairies: “White-wash boards cupped from the sun/two-by-six walls all out of plumb/sagging rafters and a swayback bench/like a mare left out to pasture” (“Better Than New”); “Faded red striped awning/the old town five-and-dime/flaps feebly in the yawning/relentless winds of time” (“These Days”).
Those excerpts may sound like Cormac McCarthy set to music, but Alden also drops in traditional music references: some overt, like his renditions of “Sail Away Ladies” and the condemned-man confessional “Sam Hall,” and two sets of tunes (most penned by him) that feature Fergus’s lively fiddle; and some more subtle, like the melody on “Fall Day Gone” and the “Buffalo Gals”-like structure of “Child to Me,” or the reflective “George’s Street” (written by his longtime collaborator Vince Keehan), which has echoes of a Sean O’Casey reminiscence, Tergis’s fiddle like some comforting nostalgic embrace.
Whatever the source or the inspiration for his material, Alden conveys the stubborn persistence of place and person amidst inevitable decline, quite like the much-romanticized West itself. [kylealden.com]