Release Date: February 5th, 2013
Let’s begin by clearing the floor of any preconceptions. Yes, Boston six-piece Kingsley Flood, like Mumford and Sons, has been corralled into that loosely defined musical category of Americana. But we are dealing with apples and oranges here; while both are tasty, at the end of the day they are two different things.
Despite the banjo and the upright bass, the dusty boots and those ever-present waistcoats, close your eyes and listen to Mumford and chances are what comes to mind is still something very much British. Sure, they get loud and stompy sometimes, but they’re never rough or impolite about it. They might confess their sins, but not without pleading earnestly for absolution. What’s more, they sing of the kind of epic love, heartbreak, and redemption that, to be frank, only a handful of us will ever experience in real life.
But, Kingsley Flood’s Americana-rooted offerings is the kind of music for every man, rich or poor, beloved or bereft, believer or unbeliever. And like all genuine American articles, this spirited band is equal parts rough-and-tumble country and brazenly unbridled rock. If Mumford stands for the man who pines for ultimate transcendence, then Kingsley Flood stands for the one who knows that the very best any of us can hope for is a bit of clarity in this muddled, contradictory world. Like it or not, Kingsley Flood assures, we can only be saints to the degree that we are also sinners. And it’s precisely these wars waged within ourselves—between our light and our dark tendencies, between how we appear and what we are deep down, between who we are now and who we will be in the future—that the album Battles explores.
If you’ve got your spurs on and are ready to ride, “Waiting on the River to Rise” is an excellent place to start. With its whistled melody line, and the sort of weathered optimism that only a true cowboy could properly express (“I got faith in faith / because the other choice / is no choice at all”), this one might as well have been plucked straight from a spaghetti western. Other tracks on the country end of the spectrum are the sturdy, imploring opener “Don’t Change My Mind” and the deliciously honky-tonk number “Pick Your Battles”. And the best opening line has to go to “Hard Times for the Quiet Kind” which leads in with the quirky narrative hook “I was born a spark plug girl” and tells the story of someone wanting to break free and be a different person despite opposing expectations.
The band is equally at ease in rock territory; refer to the devil-may-care exuberance of “Sun’s Gonna Let Me Shine” and the rough, reverby sound of the album’s first single, “Down.” The track “Strongman” sounds just as defiant as its main character, who taunts “You can try, try, try, try, try, try to take me down boy/ I’m not gonna go / No I’m set in stone.”
And though they do loud exceedingly well, Kingsley Flood makes just as much impact with the slower, sparser tracks. Take for example the stripped down “Sigh a While” that follows on the heels of the sonically dense “Down.” What’s lovely here is the way the gentle strands of instrumentation weave in and out as the song progresses; vocals and acoustic guitar first, then a second voice chimes in, piano briefly replaces the voices, a fiddle and brass join up late in the game accompanied by something synthesized and the sound of laughter, then everything gradually fades to silence. “This Will Not Be Easy” follows in the same lower-decibel vein.
Kingsley Flood’s sound is something special. It’s familiar but not unwilling to skirt boundaries and surprise. The inclusion of brass instruments, as it always does, lifts the spirits. The piano lines never sound precious; they clang along in brave, open chords in the sort of loose-limbed way you’d play an upright with sticky keys in some smoky saloon (this, showcased perfectly in the rollicking “King’s Men”). And, finally, there’s lead singer Naseem Khuri’s voice which, though gruff like Dylan’s, isn’t plagued by the same sort of unshakeable weariness—despite the hard truths spoken, there are still colorings of youthful hope here.
Preview “Down” from Battles: