Album Review: Kyle Cox – Self titled album shows off music history-blending style

Kyle Cox has been a site favorite for a few years now. He’s a real down to earth guy with a legitimate heart for music. When his rootsy style came across our desks initially, we fell in love with what he’s up to. When this salvo – the self-titled album – arrived we were beyond excited. Cox brings a unique sound that will feel like albums from your grandparents’ vinyl collection combined with some hard-hitting (and heart-wrenching) lyrics that are quintessentially befitting the current historical moment.

The album opens with “Where’s the Magic Gone,” a fun old time swing song. The stand up bass kind of steals the show on this one, but Cox’s vocal shines through nicely on the track. The timeless jazzy standard feel is a real nice way to start an album that eventually gets lyrically complex. Although it has a serious focus on a relationship with some really intricate chord changes, the song feels whimsical and fun.

The following track “Waiting on the Sun” has some fun studio vocals that sound like they’re right out of the 50s. But the ballad itself is really impressive, with an almost Elvis Presley style sincerity to it. When the song picks up the tempo partway through, it transitions styles a bit, yet keeps the Presley-Orbison era at center stage.

“Somewhere in Between” is the most reminiscent of previous Cox songwriting, with a Randy Newman-style storytelling element. There’s a lilted optimism at the end of the phrases, even though it’s a blues song in sheep’s clothing. Cox captures an intriguing philosophical truth with this song that sometimes the biggest changes in life aren’t dramatic conversions, but rather small changes in day to day situations. It’s everyman philosophy, but shows that the Greeks were right when they said, “everything in moderation.”

“Enjoy What’s Left” feels like an old school country song from guys like John Hartford and Tom T. Hall. Cox definitely has that kind of sensibility to his music. While this one departs from of the Sinatra-esque swing of his other writing, this acoustic poetry is quite welcome. “I take my time to enjoy what’s left…” is one of those lines that makes you take pause and see your own life differently. The sentiment of the track is similar to Dawes’s “A Little Bit of Everything.” It works and deserves to be widely supported.

Oddly, “All My Time” begins with some in-studio talk of the recording mix. But after that exchange, some of the best finger picking on the album commands the room and lays down a solid base for Cox’s thoughtful lyrics again. There’s a set of existential questions about making the most of life, even through sacrificing to your significant other. The picking reminds me a bit of Justin Townes Earle. If throwback singer songwriter is your aim, the Earles are damn good company.

Folks following Cox for a while have heard “Love Remind Me” in the past, but the track has a full remix on this track. There’s a massive production boost to it. In fact, the soft flute in the intro does not adequately prepare the listener for the jarring curse in the opening line. The juxtaposition is, I’m sure, intentional. But it hits pretty hard for folks who may not already know this song. The lyrics remain some of Cox’s best to date. “Fields of My Heart” opens with some intriguing strings before breaking into Cox solo with keys. It’s definitely a different pace than the other tracks on the album, but shows a different texture on his vocal and even songwriting style.

The harmonies on “Sorrow Holds the Shovel” stand out on the album for sure. There’s a gospel spirit to the track, even though it doesn’t have a gospel message. The final track “Better Off Being Wrong” has some really powerful lines. “I burned so many bridges in the name of Christ” might be the most poignant. It seems to be a bit of a memoir track, uncovering a deep personal story and reflection. This song, although stylistically different, is doing what artists like Noah Gundersen and David Ramirez are also doing in this songwriting generation.

Although stylistically I don’t agree with all of the production decisions on this album, I do think Cox’s songwriting has shown serious growth in the past few years. The personal lyrics and quality guitar play are what define him as an artist. I look forward to future albums having more like the simplicity and sincerity of “Enjoy What’s Left.”

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