John Kunk – Rough Start – 10 tracks / 45 minutes: Scheduled release October 11th, 2019
Many in the Treasure Valley are already aware of John Kunk and his brand of Delta Blues guitar work. In addition to regularly appearing around downtown Boise as a solo artist, he also dropped a four-song EP with his band Delta Mud last year and performs with them when their schedules allow. Rough Start marks John’s first foray into officially releasing solo music, and he is “excited to be doing it, and doing it right”.
On this album, John is stripped down to the most basic elements: with exception of the closing track, there is nothing in these 45 minutes besides the man’s voice and guitar playing (which includes a few acoustic songs). There is little studio magic here and -with the exception of the aforementioned closer “Just What You Want” and its overlaid harmonica- it has a very organic and live-in-studio sound.
Most “solo” artists make music with backing session players, undoubtedly because keeping an entire album interesting with one instrument is a daunting task. The songs here (eight originals and two standards) have both the variation and passion required to ensure that the proceedings never grow stale. Although the music is drenched in the blues sound, unlike Neil Young’s Le Noise which was steeped in grunge-rock riffs, I was reminded of that great record simply because of the fact that they are both enthralling and truly solo works.
The record may be entitled Rough Start, but it gets off to anything but with “Black Haired Mama”. After a brilliant, shot-in-the-gut guitar intro, John sings about his “black haired mama, her skin as white as the falling snow”. This is a great example of what John has to offer both as a player and a writer, and when the song slows down drastically on the last several notes, it provides a rewarding finish.
After the slower and sparser “Pray to the Lord Above” (which finds Mr. Kunk sounding like a lovesick man at rock bottom asking for help, or at least some answers), another crunchy groove carries the standout “Roll Me Over Slow”. On this track, John has some swagger to his lyrics and is loose in his delivery as he sings “when I come home in the evening, and sit down in my chair; my baby start running her fingers through my hair, roll me mama, roll me over slow.” Indeed.
“Journey Stream” is an instrumental that rolls along like a slow train – or, I suppose, a mountain stream. “Catfish Blues” is an excellent choice of a cover, and has plenty of space between the notes for the listener to get lost in, and who doesn’t enjoy the line “I wish I was a catfish, in the deep blue sea; with all them good lookin women, fishin’ after me”.
The best is saved for last: “Snake Bite” has that steely, echoing guitar sound reminiscent of Jack White’s De Stijl-era interpretations of the blues, while “Just What You Want” brings things to a close with some raucous harmonica work and subtle foot-stomping percussion as John sings a warning disguised as invitation to “come with me darlin’, and throw it all away… I may not have what you need, but I sure got what you want”. If Rough Start is any indication, John Kunk is an artist to keep an eye (and both ears) on going forward.
Key Tracks: “Snake Bite”, “Roll Me Over Slow”, “Black Haired Mama”