Review Summary: Folky perfection with a bite.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Kevin Devine is his sincerity, his inability to be anyone but himself. This feature is never more evident than on the sometimes lilting, pleasantly striking, occasionally head-raising Put Your Ghost To Rest. It opens with a folky number about the bare necessity of staying true ("Brooklyn Boy") and closes with a quiet, heart-breaking number about losing everything but keeping on anyway ("Heaven Bound And Glory Be"). In between, Devine manages to make versatility seem easy armed with naught but an acoustic guitar, the occasional drum line or steel guitar and his brilliant lyricism.
I won't bother you with a track by track, but rest assured each number on this album has something unique to offer. Even within songs, Devine shows his uncanny ability to create something out of nothing. Take, for instance, "Just Stay", a track that seems at first like it will float along with some snarky lyrics and drop off, but instead crescendos into a beat-driven closing of "oohs" and "whoas" without seeming forced. Other songs, like the politically-charged acoustic "The Burning City Smoking" suggest that perhaps Devine is a closet Bright Eyes fan, while the angsty rocker "Trouble" and the electric "Like Cursing Kids" serve as reminders to fans of Devine's previous more alternative albums.
Shining above it all is Devine's voice, pretty without seeming foppish and always dripping with emotion without coming off as, well, emo. And what is a great voice without great words? James Blunt comes to mind. Instead, Devine's lyrics earn him a frequent comparison to Bob Dylan, yet Dylan never seems quite as directly cynical as this Brooklyn song writer. If you're looking for confessing wit, look no further than "Trouble", where Devine quips "Trouble makes no scene/she sweeps in surgical and clean/leaves me begging on my hands and knees/ And she's always on the clock/but she doesn't own a watch/cause she wrecks me straight into my sleep" or in "You're Trailing Yourself", when he casually mentions "Your apartment can't talk, so it's safe for your secrets." But that doesn't mean he can't be nice, offering tender little tidbits in songs like "Billion Bees," a would-be love song with the closing remarks"So we lay glowing in the grass/to watch the sun swap with the moon/to trade our future for our past/the present tense was all we knew".
Although the album is a definite shift from his heavier work, even from Split The Country, Split The Street, which came out a mere 17 months prior, it is truly a gem in its own right. It is an album that demands attention, if merely for the fact that listening to it is to meet Devine himself.
post.script.- This is my first review here, and although I've been reading for a while, I'm not positive of what you lovely folks expect from your reviews. Suggestions are welcome.