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Kenny White: Long List of Priors

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Sep 07, 2017
Category: Cabaret

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If this were Twitter, I could make the case for Kenny White in less than 140 characters: Do you like Randy Newman? Then you’ll love Kenny White.

Which is to say: Kenny White is the urban musician’s urban musician. He’s an astonishingly gifted pianist with a great ability to find a hook at the end of a long phrase — not surprising, as he wrote the music for TV commercials for decades. And he writes about romance with a winning mixture of irony, regret and hope. The young women at bars with shirts so short you can see the tattoos in the small of their backs — although he kind of hates them, he also wants to “finger paint the remaining Chinese alphabet [on them] with the hot fudge I saved from Bouley Bakery.” Too sophisticated for non-New Yorkers? Try this: “You suck for saying I’ll never change/ and I suck for never changing.” Or this: “There’s not much left to talk about/ You found your way in; you can find your way out.”

As he says, “It’s not music to cook dinner by.”

Consider these lyrics, from his new CD:

looks like we may have finally hit a dry spell
if i’d any sense i’d tell you we’re sinking like a stone.
it’s never fun when only one can feel the distance
and the path of least resistance is worn and overgrown

the heart is a living, breathing contradiction
it gets cooler with friction, warm with a gentle touch
i heard a line about the heart once, now i’m gonna steal it
when it’s full you hardly feel it, when it’s empty it weighs so much

day by day, all through the night it’s all about who’s wrong, who’s right
i’m getting tired of the endless battle.
i’m just looking for a road less travele

Which, with music, sounds like this (and yes, that’s David Crosby singing harmony):

The persistence of hope — the struggle to connect, and the desire to do it, no matter how often you fail, is at the heart of White’s talent:

I’m getting tired of coming close
Tired of the chances I don’t take
The thing about the heart that hurts the most
Is when you just can’t feel it break

Look at the economy and precision of those lyrics! I’m dazzled by “Symphony in 16 Bars,” about his dead father, which, in its entirety, is this:

How do I put this down?
How can I make it clear?
What I am feeling now.
How I wish you were here.
How do you fit an ocean
Into a riverbed?
How do I turn your memory
Back into you instead?
I might as well try naming all the stars
Or write a symphony in 16 bars

I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for Kenny White. Several critics have put “Long List of Priors” on the “best of the year list. [To buy the CD and get a free MP3 download, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.] He’s been opening the evening on the Judy Collins/Stephen Stills tour, and adding shows of his own along the way. [For Kenny White’s tour schedule, click here.]

Kenny White keeps a punishing schedule at an age when others are strumming guitars on their porches. As a writer with a reduced fare MetroCard, I commend his effort to do better, to make a mark, to leave a mark. As he writes:

Maybe leave something more than ashes in a pile
You got a brain, you got style
So you might as well put it on the line once in a while.

Remember the commercial: “Bet you can’t eat just one.” Well, here’s a consumer warning: This guy is addictive. “Long List of Priors” may send you back to his catalog. Worse can happen. So…

To buy “Symphony in 16 Bars” from Amazon click here.

To buy “Uninvited Guest” from Amazon, click here.

To buy “Never Like This” from Amazon click here.