Not many of you know Kevin. I, myself, didn't know who he was for a long time. I first heard his name just after the turn of the new millennium. I was really into technical guitar players, most notably Paul Gilbert (fantastically talented, humorous fella who I'd recommend you all check out), and when Kevin's name popped up on a random music forum I couldn't help but think, "Does Paul have a brother I don't know about?" All of us have our moments of naivety. I can't remember if I actually checked out Kevin's solo music at the time. I'd like to think I forgot to, as I wouldn't be able to live down the shame of hearing it and neglecting to fall in love with it, as I have now. While certainly a different brand of music than Paul's, which is often guitar-focused and quirky, Kevin's generally uses a more diverse range of instruments, his humor is more tongue-in-cheek, and at times it's rather dark as well.
Kevin Gilbert is often overlooked, despite his great contributions to the world of music, as well as to many other musicians. His resume includes such accolades as keyboardist for Eddie Money, engineer for Michael Jackson's album Dangerous, and songwriter for Madonna. He's also credited with the discovery of Sheryl Crow (including a co-writing credit for her first hit, "All I Wanna Do"), who he met when she auditioned for his band at the time, Toy Matinee. It's amazing and saddening then, that most of you probably never knew you were listening to a song he'd written. Even more saddening due to the fact that Kevin passed away in 1996, far before his time. Ironically, within a week his manager was contacted to schedule an audition for him to be Phil Collin's replacement for Genesis, which surely would have given him the attention his work thus far deserved. His early departure, however, resulted in the fact that there are only a handful of people who really strive to help spread his music to new ears. I'm grateful to be fortunate enough to have found his music, and hope that this review will help do a small part in bringing his work to a more people.
I was debating with myself over the past week as to which album I would talk about. I knew Kevin would be the artist, but I kept changing up which release I thought I should focus on. While it could have been one of his former bands' releases, either from Giraffe or Toy Matinee, I felt that it should really be selected from one of his solo efforts. Would I select his debut release, Thud? A great album by any standard, but out of print. What good would it do me to tell you how fantastic an album is that you can't currently buy (but it really is good)? A year following Thud's release, Kevin passed away. Luckily for us, he was incredibly productive and his friends (notably Nick D'Virgilio and John Cuniberti) cared enough about him to scrounge up his intended, but incomplete, recordings, finish them, and then release them for his fan's auditory pleasure. The album that receives the most notice from this is The Shaming Of The True, a rock-opera following the character of Johnny Virgil as he scales the summit of music stardom and discovers the ugly face of the music industry. While I, too, love that album and would recommend it to anyone who's a fan of rock music in general, I've decided that it has received attention from writers far more articulate than myself, and that I should look to another release that has received less notice.
I'd like to point you all in the direction of the Gilbert Estate's more recent releases, two separate companion albums entitled Nuts and Bolts released in 2009. These albums, as their titles suggest, are some of the songs
leftover from Kevin's work (though not all that's left, I assure you). They range from re-recorded versions of previously released tracks, acoustic renditions, but largely features unheard releases. Compared to Thud and
Shaming..., the songs are more laid back, featuring mainly acoustic guitar and piano work. That is not to say that there isn't any excitement in these discs, as each song presents us with a new addictive melody and turn of phrase (Gilbert's lyricism is eloquent), and changes mood from track to track.
What I connect with most about Kevin's music, and Kevin himself, is that there appears to be little barrier between himself and what he shows you. When artists write songs, they often draw on their own experiences, but display them to you in a way that separates themselves from being in direct view through the lyrics. While Kevin doesn't sing about himself by name, as I suspect he thought people would find it both narcissistic and tiresome, he doesn't falter in showing emotions that many of us are afraid to admit to having. His self-depreciating attitude is notable in songs like "Finally Over You", which explores the low self-esteem of a man who tries to make an ex-girlfriend jealous by parading around with other women who he really doesn't care about, and "God's Been Tapping My Phone", which details a man's desperate attempts to find someone who thinks he's worthwhile. I find these honest and refreshing, bringing me a sense of appreciation for someone who is able to lay themselves out so plainly for us to see.
Many of the songs on these albums take us deep into Kevin's tumultuous love-life and the experiences he gained from them, such as the delightful song "Something Nice For My Dog", which takes a stab at a former flame in a truly novel fashion. But he takes detours to comment on how people (and perhaps countries) tend to live, to tell us a Pinocchio-style story from the point of view of the puppet maker, as well as to craft the most well-written song about writer's block that I've ever heard. Additionally, included here is his version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", previously released as a bonus with Thud, which is quite brilliantly performed. From start to finish, this collection is a wonderful addition to the Gilbert catalog, and I find myself listening to these two just as often as any of his other works.
Though Kevin left us far too soon, we have been fortunate in the fact that he was such a proficient and talented individual. He was gracious enough to leave us these presents that we're able to unwrap and experience, some
for the very first time. While I can hope that they'll soon uncover another album's worth of material accidentally hidden under an old rug, I realize that if this is all that we have of him to experience, it is quite a treasure to have. Kevin Gilbert shared himself with us in each of these songs, opening up and making himself more vulnerable than most people we ever meet will do for us. It's a rare thing that we have here, and people would be wise to take a moment and peek inside. They might just see themselves.
"It came out great, and I sent it to my friend who worked at A&R, and he took it to the boss. And the boss said, 'Kevin Gilbert? Who is Kevin Gilbert? Why are we going to put this on the Led Zeppelin tribute? I mean, sure, it's good, but who the hell is Kevin Gilbert?' So the word came back to me that, quote,
'You're not famous enough to be on the Led Zeppelin tribute."
- Kevin Gilbert, Interview 1995