As you may or may not know, dear readers, I attended the esteemed Berklee College of Music a number of years ago.
No lie. In 2005, I packed my bags (filled, of course, with all my hopes and dreams), grabbed my little bass guitar, and moved up to Boston. I signed up for (and even attended!) a whole bunch of classes……hell, I even graduated a few years later (and have the crippling monthly loan payments to prove it)! It was quite an experience, and I can honestly say that I met some truly wonderful and insanely talented people during my time there. Some of them even still talk to me! (And I really try to keep my foot in the door with them because they’re all so super talented that they’re sure to eventually become famous, and what famous musician doesn’t need a roadie or food taster….right??)
Of all the people I met during my time at Berklee, however, I can think of none who was as amazingly diverse and fabulous at every single damn thing she did more so than my uber-talented friend Christina Kenny. I knew her mainly as a keyboard player and vocalist in the beginning, but, as it turns out, the longer I knew her, the more instruments she picked up…..and therefore the more instruments she became good at. Singing and piano? Check. Guitar? Check. Bass? No problem. Drums? Roger that. Ukulele? Sure, why not? How about five instruments at once? Please…is there a real challenge somewhere in that question? (And you don’t know how shocked I am that this is actually done in split screen.) I’m sure by now she’s even mastered the zither and the didgeridoo……Tina Kenny’s nearly a freakin’ prodigy. It’s almost like being friends with Prince or something, just without all the purple and the cane.
So anyway, it was therefore an honor and a privilege when she asked me – at a point smack dab in the middle of my Berklee education – to be a part of her band. Of course I accepted, and never once regretted it…..the music was great, the people were awesome, and we all had such a good time playing together! Don’t believe me? Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…..so this has to be worth at least a couple hundred. (I’m the bearded dude with the red tie skulking around in the background there…..)
But it must be said that being in Tina Kenny’s band wasn’t just a gig to me….one of those things where you’re just playing in a group to get some experience, or to fill in for someone who couldn’t make it, or to do a favor for a friend whose music you sort of like….but you’re really only in the band because that person’s your friend and you like supporting your friends.
No, it was something more than all of that. I actually believed in Tina Kenny.
In a general sense, I think it gives all musicians a great feeling – a pervasive feeling of confidence and inspiration – to be led by a wonderfully talented musician in a group setting. So there’s that. But there was another level to this particular situation……as a songwriter myself, I LOVED her original compositions. Just damn good pop songs, solid in melody, lyric, and instrumentation. It was stuff I would listen to and enjoy even if I wasn’t in the band, and that really doesn’t happen as often as you might think.
After a few gigs around Boston, the group began work on recording a CD, and it all felt like it was really coming together. I thought for sure that it was just a matter of time before that album got released and one of her tunes got some wind beneath its wings….then Tina Kenny would be all over the radio. Fans would be snatching up copies of the CD left and right, people would find themselves singing her songs in the shower, and we’d have more gigs on our calendar than we could possibly handle. I could feel it deep in my bones…..it was simply inevitable.
Sadly, it seems that even things that are destined to be are not always quite that destined to be, and that “inevitable” can sometimes just be an opinion. And so it was, not just with the CD, but with the band as well. Things happened, life intervened, graduations took place….and, alas, both album and group became victims of circumstances far beyond any single person’s control. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes….the ball that looked like a home run coming off of your bat falls into an outfielder’s mitt a foot short of the fence. The game is lost. The season is over. And everyone moves on.
Within a year, I had put together the first incarnation of Greedy Cherry, and was cruising along with my own group of extraordinary musicians. I loved every minute of the new project I had formed, but would still think of Tina Kenny and that old band on occasion. I found myself missing those wonderful, fun gigs where I could just hang back, play some great songs, and take my cues from an inspiring musician instead of having to give them myself.
Of course, being friends, Tina and I have kept in touch over the years, and I knew that I wasn’t finished hearing great music from her…..it was simply just a matter of time before she put something else together and got back to doing what she does best. And now, finally, that time has come.
Enter Tina Kenny and the Balance.
Tina’s new group is (and I quote their press materials here) “the NYC/NJ area’s hottest female-fronted quartet”….they offer not just a mix of great cover tunes and hit songs for your big party or function (always a necessary evil if you hope to earn any money as a musician), but also (and more importantly, to me, anyway) tasty originals as well. So when I saw on their Facebook page that they were looking for some people to review their latest single, “Object Of Obsession” (which you can listen to here, and buy, if you are so inclined, here), I didn’t hesitate to volunteer; you know how I feel about Tina’s songwriting (well, at least now you do). The trickiest part for me would be remaining objective……so let’s see how I do.
The first thing I liked right out of the gate about this tune (besides the fact it rocks immediately) was the fact that it uses the old “riff in unison” trick that has anchored so many classic rock tunes, with the electric guitar (lead guitarist Russ Jones) and bass (courtesy of Miss Kenny herself) playing the same line together simultaneously. Famous examples of this device range from Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and “The Ocean” to “Drive My Car” by The Beatles and “Love Will Find A Way” by Yes (or the less awesome but more well-known “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, if you don’t go that deep into Yes’s catalog). This technique lends any tune, especially in the rock genre, added weight and power. A promising start!
After we move past the initial tasty lick, Tina comes in with her passionate, bluesy vocals while one guitar makes distorted stabs in my left ear and another chugs away in my right. This creates a good groove and is an effective arrangement, I think. While not initially paying attention to lyrics, I instead took the first pass through to admire the adventurous melody…although to be honest, I wasn’t sure I quite appreciated the note choice in the line around :24 (I think the words are “dismiss your gentle brevity”?). It just seemed those last few notes sat on the chord wrong, like a major tone on a minor chord….just knocked me out of the bluesy headspace I was in for a moment, and anything that jumps out like that, I tend to notice.
Regardless, drummer Steve Plesnarski gets to go nuts on his kit when the chorus arrives, and the two riff machines that Tina refers to as guitarists keep up the good work. (Unless, of course, second guitarist/keyboardist Chris Trokovich isn’t involved in that part and it’s just Russ doing overdubs….then it’s just one riff machine.) The little background yells on the post chorus give the proceedings an enjoyable kick of personality, although the background chatter at 1:37 (you can find a time-countered version of the track on the group’s ReverbNation page here, if you want to follow along) reminded me of a lesser and more muted version of David Lee Roth’s chatter during Van Halen’s “Unchained”. Interesting, but probably doesn’t add much here…..although, oddly enough, I did appreciate the musical aspect of the breakdown. Like a little sorbet to cleanse the audio palette, so to speak.
The guitar solo that followed could have been a little nastier, in my opinion….at least in tone. I wanted more growl to go along with the vibe of the rest of the song. Frankly, surprisingly enough, I could have used more growl from Tina too in some places……during most of the tune I felt a type of emotional rawness from her, an angsty breathiness, but there were certain phrases and words where she seemed to back off in her delivery, or not go into overdrive the way I expected, given the feel of the rest of the song. One example of this was the way she sang “Object Of Obsession” at the end of the first chorus (:42); it just didn’t seem as passionate or driving as, for instance, the mini-snarl she gives the same phrase on the second chorus (1:26) or the thrilling push she gives it on the last chorus (2:55). Of course, this is just nitpicking (it is a review, after all)….almost all of her vocals are quite excellent. (One of my favorite parts, actually, is the part between the breakdown and the guitar solo at 1:48…..nice and raspy, and when she hits that final high note at 2:01, my memory reaches back to all those impossible high notes she used to hit all the time at Berklee. Nice to know she hasn’t lost any of her range!)
Lyrically, I understand that the song is about an obsessed admirer whose affections are unwanted, but I’ll have to admit I couldn’t always make out what was being sung, even if I greatly appreciated the manner in which it was being performed. I don’t really believe in changing anyone’s personal singing style just to make words more discernable (that goes for you too, Michael Stipe), and it could be just an issue where some clarity could have been added with riding levels or adding some EQ in the mix, but I do find myself hoping that a lyric booklet will be included with what I assume will be a forthcoming CD.
Lastly, I probably could have used a little more drums……especially in the upper-mids/mids and on the toms and snare. With as chunky as the guitars and bass were, I felt a little bit more body out of the kit was warranted in the mix.
(There, now see? It wasn’t all positive and glowing, was it?)
Overall, in my humble opinion, this is a great track, both bluesy and rocking (which is one of my favorite combinations), and worth being stuck on “repeat” in my music player (which it was for at least half an hour last night….and I was still singing it this morning). If it’s any taste of an album to come, you can bet your sweet bippy (ask someone from the 1950s) I’ll be buying a copy of that puppy it when it finally comes out!
You can hear more from Tina Kenny and the Balance (as well as another piano-based original entitled “Pay No Mind”, which features Tina’s voice quite nicely) on their website, tinakennyandthebalance.com. And check the “Performances” page….if you’re near the New York City area (especially Staten Island), you may even get a chance to catch them live, which I would totally recommend doing; I’m pretty sure it would be awesome.
I mean, maybe it’s just these rose-colored glasses I’m wearing, but I don’t think Tina Kenny is capable of putting on a bad performance.
Miss you, my friend.