Yet another Dylan admirer, New Yorker Kevin Devine is one of today’s many guitar-wielding introverts. Aside from Dylan, he cites Nirvana, the late Elliott Smith, and Guns N’ Roses as some of his favourites. In recent years his music has reflected his increasing political beliefs and loss of his father, though it’s hard to find the latter in Put Your Ghost to Rest.
But before we get to the music, I must get this off my chest: his lyrics can sometimes be a turn-off. Devine tries to convey pain, sadness, and love, and while the words are sincere, he often overdoes it. The excess shows up in places such as “Less Yesterday, More Today” and the embarrassing “Billion Bees,” which is up to its eyebrows in the mushy department (“Til I watched your fingers sneak towards mine” or “And I sucked your lip and bit your neck”). But he also includes a poem hidden in the sleeves, “I See America’s Promise,” detailing America’s ailing condition (“its smiling lips/ and snowstorm teeth/ and jackyl jaw/ and high priest TV tongue”), and I’ve got to admit Devine can get very deep.
To be honest, Devine is at his musical best when he turns up the volume with the ol’ guitar-and-drums rather than when he wallows in mushy love. The best tracks are at the beginning of the album (“Brooklyn Boy” and “You’re Trailing Yourself,” with confusing philosophical lyrics that I won’t bother to decipher). “You’ll Only End Up Joining Them” verges on self-pity—but who cares when the music rocks? Ditto with “Like Cursing Kids” and “The Burning City Smoking”, which prove Devine is a better rocker than confessor. The jovial mood from “Trouble” (the happiest track, by the way) is unfortunately negated by the wimpy “Heaven Bound & Glory Be,” ending Put Your Ghost to Rest on a limp note—but hey, it sure beats most of today’s awful mainstream.