Leaving the Lights On Album reviews.
heredownload Kevin So lyrics and sheet music Just So Stories
True story: I was sitting around at Bill's place, choosing discs to review, and we started laughing our asses off over the lyrics to the first song on this album, "Average Asian American," because they seemed so, y'know, awful: "Though I eat bean curd and wear my jade / You can rest assured I'm American made"? Whatever. But then we decided to play the damn thing, and we stopped laughing, because it was actually unexpectedly funky and smooth. So I grabbed the disc (discs, actually, it's a studio double-album) and I ended up pretty much liking it, in spite of one serious drawback, which I'll get to soon.
Kevin So has been kicking around the Boston music scene for a long time, as much as I can gather, appearing on comps and putting out solo records and gigging all over the place, but has never really broken out of the Beantown Bubble as far as name recognition. But here he comes in 2003, with 150 minutes' worth of original tunes, making a strong bid for some national buzz.
And he deserves it, y'all-Kevin So is an original talent with a big heart and a love of all kinds of music. He's got a great husky versatile voice that can move from folky ballads to funky workouts without losing any of its sincerity or passion. And he plays most of the instruments on the record, and wrote the songs, and all that, so he's for real.
The diversity of this album is its second-greatest greatest strength; "The Loneliest Person in the World" sounds like something off Prince's Emancipation, and it's followed by "If It Were Up to Me," which could easily be an early Billy Joel tune, and then we get a faux-Stevie/Marvin sexx jamm ("Tonight and the Morning After") and a neo-soul tune with extra hornage ("Don't Blow It, Kid"). And that doesn't count the Latin dance song or the blues song, both of which end up succeeding because of the album's greatest strength, which is So's likeability factor, which is very high due to his engaging voice and obvious menschitude.
But the record's greatest drawback is pretty huge: So is completely undisciplined as a lyricist. Some of these songs have a tough-but-tender edge to them that cannot be denied-"Stanley Chin" is a blues song from the perspective of a businessman whose kids don't want to follow in his footsteps: "Well my name is Stanley Chin / And I own a Chinese restaurant", and "New Day Begun" has a great surprise ending that redeems the whole "hey, son, get out of bed it's the first day of school" conceit.
But a lot of these songs suffer from too much cleverness, or an inability to distinguish easy choices and smarm from real songwriting. Some of it is caused by So's mission to be the first important Asian singer-songwriter-he doesn't know if he wants to confirm Asian stereotypes ("Don't Blow It, Kid") or deny them ("Abacus (You Do the Math)"). And then there are songs that are just plain lazy ("When It Rains It Pours") or clichéd ("4th of July") or overly twee ("One Big Happy Family").
I don't mind the length of this record at all-hell, if all the songs were as good and as passionate as "Streets of Chinatown" or "Stanley Chin," it wouldn't matter a bit how long the damned thing was. And I really like Kevin So's voice and his personality and his taste in music (but, damn, too many sad Stevie ballads, Kev, gotta work on that). But it's also about the lyrics, too, for a singer-songwriter, and, overall, they just don't measure up here. 14-Jan-2004 7:08 PM