With his creative use of alternate tunings, aggressive strumming and otherworldly sound effects, Keith Kenny knows his way around the guitar. His one-man band sound, complete with a well-worn old red suitcase as a kick drum, has kept him on the road for over a decade, opening for the likes of John Butler Trio, Keller Williams, Ween and The Dean Ween Group.
As often happens, the constant push and pull of the road can wreak havoc on personal relationships. When Kenny’s new marriage began falling apart, the New Jersey performer found solace in the guitar and channeled his pain and anguish into his latest release, Lifetime Ago Motel.
The album title refers to the challenges of maintaining a happy home life with the rigors of the touring life on the road in, well, less than five-star hotels. Throw in a pandemic that shuts down live music and you have a recipe for either complete disaster or an artistic breakthrough.
Fortunately, Kenny pushed through the difficulties, and tracks such as “Broken Misery,” “Move Along” and “A Lifetime Ago” reveal an artist growing beyond an interesting guitarist into a bona-fide singer/songwriter. Lifetime Ago Motel channels the tortured blues of Chris Whitley with the inventive guitarwork pioneered by Michael Hedges and Kenny’s love of heavy metal legends Black Sabbath, Metallica and Led Zeppelin.
Watch “Broken Misery” below:
“Broken Misery” was co-written with friend Ian Luberecki. “At the time, I was going through a divorce, so a lot of that was coming out in the songwriting,” Kenny tells American Songwriter. “I was showing Ian the riff and the music. He knew what I was going through at the time and was kind of channeling my energy. I think the first lyric that he wrote was ‘So much broken misery, I don’t know what you did to me’ and then we just hashed out the rest together really fast.”
The reggae-inflected album opener “Move Along” sets an upbeat tone despite the pain evident in the opening lines, ‘Left alone and misunderstood/it doesn’t matter if you’re feeling good/you’re alone now and that’s ok.’
“I initially had some other choices for the first song of the record. It’s a really important decision to me because it really sets the tone for the rest of the songs if you are an old school ‘cover to cover’ listener like myself. I was thinking ‘Little Lies’ could be a great opener because it has a spacey vibe and kind of puts you somewhere else for the first verse and then everything kicks in with the chorus. But I was sharing the songs around with a lot of my close friends and getting their take on it. ‘Move Along’ was hands down voted the opener amongst just about everyone I played the album for. I’m definitely happy with that choice. It has a sunnier vibe but foreshadows that this album could be about a deeper personal pain.”
Kenny reveals that “Move Along,” “A Lifetime Ago,” and “Broken Misery” were written around the same time.
“I was on tour with the Dean Ween Group promoting the last album and working out new tunes on stage, so both of those were in the set list for a while before they ever got recorded. The writing was very quick, but they got more refined after being performed live for a while. ‘A Lifetime Ago’ was more of a labor of love type tune for me and for a while I didn’t even think it had a shot to make it on the record. When I first came up with the music, I thought it was great and showed off some of my love for The Beatles-style songwriting. But lyrically I felt like I was sounding very clichéd, so I took a little longer to fine-tune it. I gave the whole album another listen when it went live on the streaming sites and ‘A Liftetime Ago’ hit me the hardest. I’m glad I put the time in on that one!
Kenny’s guitar of choice is an old Martin he’s nicknamed Martina. “It’s my very first acoustic and I’ve had it for 20 years. It’s the cheapest model Martin you can buy: Martin DX-1. It has laminated sides and back instead of all-natural wood, but I absolutely love the way it sounds with pick-ups in it. I’ve traveled all around the world with it and it is really beat to hell. Most luthiers tell me that it’s time to hang it up on a wall, but I am so attached to it.”
The album’s closing track, “Drifting In Time” is a pastoral sounding instrumental with a beautiful melancholy melody. “I love the melody, it’s kind of sad yet hopeful in a way. That is another song that came together so fast that I almost forgot how to play it completely. It is one of those tunes that I would seldom play at shows because it is so mellow and the guitar tuning is pretty bizarre: C, G, A#, F, A#, D. It’s kind of an oddball tuning and a variation of something that Michael Hedges used. Luckily, I wrote a couple other tunes in that same tuning and the melody came back to me and the song ended up on the album. I didn’t want to forget it again!”
“Surprisingly for me, the rest of the record is mostly in standard tuning. I write a lot in different variations of D, A, D, G, A, D and banjo-style tunings. It really opens up the instrument for me and always leads to a new discovery.”
Listen to Lifetime Ago Motel here: https://www.keithkenny.com/