Now based in Nashville, praised by notables Keb’ Mo’, Amos Lee, Billy Bragg, and Richie Havens, modern troubadour Kevin So displays his formidable gifts as a songwriter, singer and guitarist on his newest disc, LiFe Solo AKouStic. The album comes packed with the potent, authoritative folk/blues music that Kevin performed in concert one special evening last spring at Club Passim, the famous subterranean Harvard Square folk club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [The “enhanced” CD also features MP3s spotlighting his earlier album, Along the Way.] This compelling update-in-song of Kevin’s life in the past decade covers the years since his father’s and best friend’s deaths. It seamlessly weaves poignant spoken remembrances by his mother into the fabric of thirteen memorably melodic, well-crafted songs that further benefit from his clever and insightful lyrics. Though mostly alone onstage, Kevin profits from guest appearances by three of his Boston-based friends – guitarist/pianist Paul Erlich, harmonica player/singer Harmonica Tom, and lap-steel specialist Jack Kingsley.
LiFe Solo AKouStic represents a perfect bookend to 1999’s Along the Way, also recorded at Passim and rendered fascinating by the wise words of his father and older brother. Affording closure to Kevin as a New England born-and-bred musician, the Passim show reflects his deep emotional reactions to a busy decade: a failed relationship, the Obama election, leaving home base New York City for Nashville (the Passim show took place while he was in transit), and a totaled car while on tour. With so much going on in his personal life at the time of this show, Kevin’s music held a communicative immediacy that drew the Cambridge audience into his songs, including the encore, Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today.” The energy and power of the performance illuminate LiFe Solo AKouStic for Kevin’s faithful fans around the country, as well as for newcomers who have recently seen Kevin on tour with blues luminary Keb’ Mo’.
The Passim show was a celebration of the release of Best Foot Forward. His first truly solo acoustic album, Best Foot marked a return to folk/blues roots after several years engaged in pop/R&B ventures. It is hard to single out any tracks. New compositions and old favorites alike are full of life. Still, one might mention the warm, inviting vocal cadences on “Forever Friend”; the honest confidence of “The Ballad of Amy Xu,” a song framed in classic folk structure. Listen to the camaraderie of Kevin and Harmonica Tom on “A Brighter Day” (take special note of Tom’s jazz-spontaneous a cappella rap), and the urgency of “Streets of Chinatown,” a declaration of ethnicity and freedom that cuts across cultures. The whole program is a rich delight of acoustic music, his strain of modern folk not shackled to any trend or style.
Taking the stage alone in Nashville, Chicago, Tampa, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, or anywhere else, Kevin projects passionate involvement with his music. He’s just as confident in the recording studio, with eight well-received albums in his discography. He’s also at ease in the world of theater, having composed songs for a semi-autobiographical musical called Great Wall. The musical is presently in major development with Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang.
Kevin first earned a following in southern New England in 1995, branched out to Chicago and the Midwest, then pursued a pop/R&B/folk direction, moving to New York City and releasing the double CD Leaving The Lights On in 2003. In 2007, Kevin won the coveted “Best Music & Lyrics” award at the prestigious New York International Fringe Festival. The following year Kevin released Best Foot Forward, a full-length reconnection with folk and blues, its songs recorded in just three days with the assistance of producer Steve Rapson, who produced Kevin’s first CD, 1996’s Pendulum.
Kevin has cultivated a strong musical kinship with contemporary blues artist Keb’ Mo’, accompanying him on recent tours, including stops at Carnegie Hall and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. As Keb’s sole accompanist at times, the versatile So unpacked his full arsenal of piano, harmonica, guitar and vocals. The two men’s affiliation dates back to 2007, when Kevin started opening shows for the popular bluesman. Kevin has also opened for Joe Cocker, Randy Newman, Little Richard, Billy Bragg, Richie Havens, Amos Lee and many other notable artists.
More great things are coming for Kevin. He’s back on the road playing solo folk/blues again. Stay tuned.