When Kevin Devine is at the top of his game, one can touch him. With each record he releases he finds new topics to expose and explore. With his latest album, Instigator, he’s stepping it up again, with his unique take on political and personal edged storytelling.
On first listen you’ll notice a low quality sound to the recordings. It’s off-putting at first, considering how established an artist Devine is, but both he and the Goddamn Band’s level of performance and songwriting shine through.
Instigator is a vivid example of blending political and relevant themes. Kevin Devine has always had a political undertone; sometimes blunt, sometimes vague, and his latest album is Devine at his most direct and unforgiving.
The acoustically driven protest song, ‘Freddie Grey Blues’, is a song for the moment we are living in right now. It takes a harsh and honest look at how the police force has been viewed in these past years, particularly focused on the death of 25-year-old Freddie Grey. “When ‘to serve & protect’ / Meant break your leg, snap your neck / Meant to kill you, to sever your spine / No matter what, there’s no good reason why”, are lyrics that are not only a strong take away, but an important set of lyrics to the entire album.
Devine dances through a verse that somehow is rhythmically fun and thematically delicate; “See, my dad was a cop/ And his dad was a cop/ And my uncles were cops/ And my cousins were cops/ I’m partly here because of cops/And I love all those cops/ And I know not every cop/ Is a racist, murdering cop/ But this is bigger than the people I love/ The system’s broken/ Not breaking/ It’s done.” Here are lyrics that reflect the tension that has been felt by those Americans whose family members and friends are part of the police service. Everyone is trying to support individuals and protest actions while understanding every officer isn’t racist. Devine also adds his brilliant touch with the line “I’m afforded the luxury/ Of shaking my head/ I shut the screen, go to bed/ I can turn off what you never can/ And watch it happen again and again”.
‘I Was Alive Back Then’, a personal standout, is an encapsulation of Devine’s life up till now wrapped in a beautiful acoustic arrangement. The track takes you through his twenties and the highs and lows of his life. You hear him frustrated while singing; “I was 23 & crazy/ Frightened, overwhelmed, and angry”, a child with the world in front of him, “It was Christmas/ We were wrestlers/ Bay Ridge Parkway/ Our apartment” and you can almost imagine him smiling and shaking on the line; “No one asks you if you’re ready/ When they’re handing you the baby”.
Kevin Devine is a masterful songwriter and artist. He continues to record albums that are incredibly relevant and almost as equally important, honest. Growth and perspective is a powerful theme throughout the record that will hold up over years and years of listening.
Instigator is out now via Procrastinate! Music Traitors.