Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue



“There’s a poet says his favorite place on earth is Italy, cause that’s the only country where men weep openly. Well I ain’t never been there, but I’ll go before I die, and I’ll walk though the piazza watchin’ people watch me cry.”

From “I Cry Easy,” Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue

Shortly after I first became acquainted with the odyssey that is Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue, a male friend of mine asked me how I felt about the album. When I gushed about how much I loved it he replied, “Must be a chick thing. All the women I know feel the same way”. While I have since talked to many men who are great fans of Revue, the idea that there was some sort of gender divide in response to the album puzzled me.

What I think my friend might have been referring to has to do with emotion. In my view, the appeal of Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue is its frank, bare expression of feelings. An album of let downs, breakdowns, and inadequacies, Revue does what music does best; it makes you feel. Ralph is not ashamed of and indeed he delights in an exhibitionistic display of emotion. There is no cynicism, no theory, no critical distance. Revue unabashedly revels in a straightforward, balls-out, heart-on-sleeve emotional wallowing, parading his shame, gut hanging out. The album’s strength is its description of weakness and vulnerability. An apt metaphor for the album as a whole, the “Chrome” in the album’s title refers to Duct Tape, the poor man’s silver. Like the character in “I Cry Easy,” Ralph takes pride in exhibiting his soft spots, which is not something men in this country are encouraged to do.

Though the lyrics and tone of the album revel in weakness, the outrageous all-star cast of the Revue contains some of Kentucky’s most illustrious contemporary musicians, among them Catherine Irwin, Will Oldham, and Wink O’Bannon. Rather than being overwhelmed by all the stars, Ralph is supported by them. A prime example of this is Freakwater’s Catherine Irwin, who sings most songs with Ralph, either in duet or in backing vocals. Irwin’s voice is a superb, mellifluous instrument, but rather than drowning out Ralph, the two work in perfect counterpoint to one another. Ralph’s voice is yet another example of the theme of strength through weakness. Rather flat and nasal, by all rights it shouldn’t work, and yet it does because of the fallibility, vulnerability, and authenticity that it embodies.

For all the emotion it contains, Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue is no downer. “I Cry Easy” is practically a rousing sing-along, a jubilant choir belting out the chorus along with Ralph. The most bittersweet of songs, “Happened to Be,” which describes a violent, drug-addled, abortion-strewn relationship, still manages a sweetness of melody and instrumentation that produces the kind of pain that feels good. Earnest though it may be, Revue also has moments of self-conscious humor, as in Ralph’s version of Iggy Pop’s classic “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” in which, after an impassioned plea for love, the singer reminds the listener that everyone’s looks will eventually go to hell.

The irony of women loving the album is that Ralph’s representations of women run from the unflattering to the misogynist. As revealed in songs like “Women Always Do,” the narrator’s view of women is often compromised by the dysfunctional relationships he has with them. The album is populated by extreme stereotypes such as prostitutes with hearts of gold, cheating women, or self-destructive and abused girls. Nonetheless, the fact that the men in Revue are equally damaged takes the sting out of his representations of women. Drifters, emotionally stunted men, and addicts complete the cast of characters.

However, Ralph is not interested in simply representing stereotypes of the poor south. If anything, Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue is an attempt to come to terms with and even rejoice in the abject heritage of the rural indigent. For example, “Grandpa Was A Hobo” simultaneously paints a picture of the mantle of masculinity that forbids men from admitting weakness, and of a young son struggling against those injunctions and taking pride in his ignominious lineage. Altogether, Ralph creates an album that is both lament for and celebration of the characters that populate his Kentucky.

June 14, 2007

One Response to “Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue”

  1. 1 Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue, at the Air Devils Inn Tomorrow! « State of the Commonwealth

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