David George & A Crooked Mile
Radiant Man (Uniglobe Records)
In a week or so, David George & A Crooked Mile’s music will be all over town.
His tune “Hey, Kansas City,” a mash note written during the Royals’ championship run and recorded with his band and K.C.’S Victor and Penny, was selected as the Kansas City Chiefs’ new touchdown song. It’s a great choice, with a thunder-rolling tom-tom beat, giant rockabilly guitars, and that irresistible “Hey!” chant.
But that’s only one edge of George’s music; Radiant Man takes George’s vision deep. Released late this past spring, the album is an intimate chapbook of conversations with people lost and people found. Each song on the album begins as a message to a single person (occasionally, perhaps, the writer himself). Instead of having an audience of 76,000 or so, these songs are heartfelt, tear-stained letters tucked onto kitchen tables, into purses, mailed way too late…or presented courageously at a funeral service.
A Crooked Mile’s sound, here and live, is at least a mile deep, and the CD also features a “Who’s Who” of Kansas City musicians, including roots regulars Cody Wyoming and Chris Meck on guitars, Marco Pascolini on pedal steel, and Betse Ellis on violin. George’s baritone, a melodic growl somewhere between Elvis Costello and the Righteous Brothers’ Bobby Hatfield, makes every missive meaningful.
Sometimes the message is bitter. The opener, “So You,” is a crunchy, crooning, exasperated call to someone spiraling downward quickly: “So you want to feel the setting sun/It’s so you.” The song’s psychedelic guitars buoy the sarcasm, and it’s clear there’s no pulling back up. That message returns with even burlier guitar lines in “The Lucky One,” with the sneered title revealing irritation with a person who doesn’t “give a damn about who you’re hurting.” Both songs capture the hopeless frustration of loving someone who can’t be helped.
Other times, the message is deep yearning. “Sooner or Later,” sung to someone who’s gone (and seems likely, in spite of the narrator’s optimism, to stay gone), captures a lover’s passive screw-ups perfectly when he sings, “The lights on the dress/that you wore to impress/didn’t seem to get through to me.”
A few of the songs reflect a man deeply in love and deliriously content — George did recently get married, after all — and in those songs, the stars burn bright. “Love Loving You” is every bit as gooey as the title. Here, George is conscious of the impossibility of avoiding clichés when writing about something so mystical, and the song is unapologetically and orchestrally huge.
The record builds to “Radiant Man,” a tribute to a father that captures the complexity of being a parent — and a child — with one lovely phrase. As band member Christine Gross’s cello builds, George remembers, “There were good times/there was happiness/there was nothing to fear.” But he also acknowledges the hidden sides: “Struggles to bear/the weight he won’t share/the demons we’ll never see.”
We’ll be chanting George’s words soon enough, but this glimpse into his complicated — and shared — world will ultimately give us a whole lot more.
KCUR contributor Mike Warren has written for a variety of local and national music publications, including No Depression. Follow him @MikeWarrenKC.