Review by Greg Maki
You might think you know Myles Kennedy by now. He’s risen to prominence as the frontman of Alter Bridge, releasing five studio albums, and since 2010, he’s been the voice of Slash’s solo band, known as Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. You might even be familiar with his earlier band, The Mayfield Four, which released albums in 1998 and 2001.
The point is, though he’s amassed a large body of work over the years, it barely hints at what’s in store for the listener on “Year of the Tiger,” his long-awaited debut solo release.
Kennedy actually spent several years working on another solo record—and completed it—before scrapping it entirely when new inspiration struck. “Year of the Tiger” throws the familiar hard rock instrumentation out the window. In place of the riff-heavy wall of sound punctuated by face-melting guitar solos, we have Kennedy, accompanied by drummer Zia Uddin and bassist Tim Tournier, playing banjo, lap steel and mandolin, in addition to acoustic guitar and bass.
The dominant sound, however, is Kennedy’s voice, placed at the forefront of every song. It’s fitting given the deeply personal subject matter. “Year of the Tiger” is the first time Kennedy has dealt directly in his songwriting with the death of his father in 1974—the year of the tiger on the Chinese calendar—when Myles was only 4 years old. Even more tragic, his father, a Christian Scientist, refused medical treatment and died shortly after he was stricken ill.
Obviously, there is a lot for Kennedy to unpack across the album’s 12 songs—sadness, anger, confusion, love and gratitude for his mother, and, in the end, hope. It’s not often we see a world-famous hard rock front man in such a vulnerable light, and a sound that draws heavily from Americana, country and blues influences allows that vulnerability to rise to the surface.
The title track opens the album, setting the stage for everything that’s to come and bringing to mind some of Led Zeppelin’s acoustic material. Unsurprisingly, religion is a frequent theme in the songs that follow, featuring most prominently in a pair of songs that play as open letters from Kennedy to his father—“Blind Faith” (“But was it worth it in the end to never see my face again?” and “Faith can be blind, but it cannot justify the tragedy of love’s demise”) and “Nothing but a Name (“Your conviction, your belief, how could you choose that over me”). It also comes up in the foot-stomping, bluesy number “Devil on the Wall” (“If there is a god, why did he take my father’s soul?”)—probably my favorite song on the record. Other highlights include “Haunted by Design,” which finds Kennedy singing in a lower register than normal, and a touching tribute to his mother, fittingly titled “Mother” (“When all hope is left to die, a mother’s love survives”).
The material here probably won’t appeal to a large portion of Kennedy’s longtime fans, and he’s smart enough to know that. That he made this record anyway—tossing aside years of work to do so—shows how important it is to him. If you want to know who Myles Kennedy is, this is the place to start. “Year of the Tiger” is a passionate and daring musical statement.
(Napalm Records, March 9, 2018)