By Victor D. Infante
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Posted Nov. 5, 2015 at 6:00 AM
“Ice Fishing,” the latest album from Marshfield singer-songwriter Kevin Connolly, starts at an old bus station and ends staring out at dusk on a broken pier: It’s an unlikely destination in an even more unlikely journey, an offbeat examination of isolation — what happens when it’s sought, and when it’s unwanted.
“Bus Station,” which opens the album, is a lively toe-tapper with an infectious energy, but at its core is a person simply watching the people coming and going to unknown destinations — “a mom with a mouthpiece/genuflecting to some two-foot kids,” “a fanny-sacking tree hugging man of devotion,” the “high school beauties/ they giggle at your hair, and your/old patchouli.” Despite the upbeat tone, there’s still a sense of otherness baked into the song: “Observing away like I’m an idiot Gandhi/ feeling like a bird in a cage that confounds me/but I love the people so clean/even when I treat them like Idi Amin.”
The whimsy and the isolation intertwine here, allowing the persona to play the knowing outside observer with a sly wink. That whimsy falls away for a while as the album moves on to the title track, a stunning slow-burn still life of masculinity, brothers and fathers. The song’s establishing image is of “two boys ice fishing.” It’s an inherently isolated picture, but the stillness is interrupted almost immediately: “and underneath the water’s/someone’s daughter, and in pain/their picks try to save her, their picks never waver.” In many instances, that would be the song, but for Connolly, it’s the starting point, as he paints a picture of the boys repeatedly being drawn out onto the ice — “the snow pretends to save us/from the drunken men who take us/out into the darkness.” There’s a tension in the song until that remains as frigid as ice, until, finally, something breaks.
Later in the album, the theme of brotherhood is revisited with “My Brother and Me,” a much lighter song that features alternating vocals with his real-life brother, Jim Connolly, who plays bass throughout the album. This song is a mostly just a bit of fun, although there’s a starkness when the song’s persona notes that “sometimes it sucks that we live on different coasts.” Even this relationship gets touched by isolation.
One of the things that makes “Ice Fishing” an interesting album is that it doesn’t confuse isolation with alienation. Even when it’s poignant, this isn’t a sad album. And while it’s hardly unique that love is the thing that disperses that sense of isolation, Connolly handles it with a sweetness and lack of sentimentality that brings it to life. For example, in “There’s a Light,” he contrasts stark images such as “there’s a man on fire” and “a buffalo sleeping in an open field” with “when I see your face, through the branches shine/and I know that taste when your lips hit mine.” Love only appears at the end, a break in the wilderness. Elsewhere, on “Busy Thinking ‘Bout Love,” Connolly revisits love more whimsically, but — as with the brotherhood theme — there remains a distance between the persona and the object of his affection. He does the same later, in Istanbul,” where his search for love leaves him empty-handed, although the potential sorrow there is mitigated by wonderful lines such as “snakes in the dust, spiders in my eyes/I keep thinking that I know Kung Fu.”
But the aforementioned wilderness remains, and Connolly returns to it with vigor — human connection becomes an accent throughout the album, rarely a focus. “You see the wolves in the distance,” he sings in the heavy blues rocker “Hot in Arizona.” “You hear the wheels on gravel turn/we prey upon each other daily/while the lonely carburetors/of our hearts are getting burned.” The sense of movement and isolation continues on in the Tom Waits-esque “Suitcase and a Rifle,” but the turn the persona takes here is darker, and more overtly lonely.
In addition to the Connolly brothers, the album features percussionist Ducky Carlisle, guitarist Chris Rival and bassist Scott Corneille, all of whom shine throughout, particularly on songs such as “Here Comes Whitey,” where Connolly breaks things up by transforming the story of legendary Boston mobster Whitey Bulger into a gripping folk song. It’s a dark, up-tempo number that’s as delightful as watching a well-made mob flick. The guitars squeal and the percussion seems to come forward in relief against the music. Throughout the album, everything hangs together like clockwork, with no discernable flaws. When “Here Comes Whitey” gives way to the quiet, poignant “Interstate,” the transition feels eminently natural, as it does when Connolly returns to his dominant themes. The song centers on a trucker on an icy interstate — isolated, thinking of the person he loves. “When the rain comes down and the ice is thick,” sings Connolly, “I will find a way to get through all of this.”
With the penultimate song, “Just About to Fall,” Connolly lets the album’s dust settle as he examines the sense of isolation he’s poked at throughout the album, and lays down some truth: “You’re hoping that nobody sees you/You’re hoping that nobody calls/You’re hoping that nobody’s listening/when you’re just about to fall.”
It’s a staggering moment of honesty, but as previously noted, this is not an album devoid of hope. Connolly ends with “Broken Pier,” a song that’s mostly a coda to the album, a bittersweet moment of looking to the future. Sings Connolly: “When there’s no place left to hide/will you walk with me sometime/out onto this broken pier/where the daylight disappears.”
The album is dedicated to the late New England writer C. Anthony Martignetti, and Connolly will be participating in a remembrance of Martignetti’s work at 8 p.m. Nov. 6 at Follen Church Society-Unitarian Universalist, 755 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington.
Motif Magazine Review of "Ice Fishing"
by Don DiMuccio
Hey kids, here’s a fun fact about me – I’m an only child. I never had to share my toys, or my albums, or my family’s affection with anyone else. And sure over the years I’ve often wondered how having a sibling would have changed the dynamics of my life, good or bad. Having been in a band for most of that lifetime, I really couldn’t fathom having a brother or sister as a fellow musical comrade. Think of all the famed family acts that have notoriously gone south over the rock era. Don & Phil Everly didn’t perform or even talk to each other for the better part of a decade. Ray & Dave Davies of The Kinks have been known to have show-stopping punch-ups literally on stage. And I shudder at the things that must have gone on in that Partridge Family bus.
But luckily for Boston-based singer songwriter Kevin Connolly, none of that melodrama applies to him and his brother Jim, who have completed a bi-coastal collaboration on Kevin’s tenth album Ice Fishing. Thanks to modern technology, both men recorded their respective parts on opposite coasts, never being physically together in the same studio. But thanks to old-fashioned brotherly love, what unfolds over 14 tracks is a tangible monument to that intangible sixth-sense that only two guys who share a mom could possess. Kevin would record the basic tracks of vocals and guitars here in New England, while big brother Jim was fundamentally given cart-blanche to interpret bass and keyboard parts all the way in sunny Santa Barbara, California.
I’ve listened to Ice Fishing in its entirety several times now; There are a few truisms that are evident throughout. Primarily Kevin Connolly’s seasoned and foreboding vocals drive the album every bit as much as a Stratocaster does Eric Clapton’s most renowned work. Connolly’s rich voice carries every emotion from pain to joy in such a way that elevates the lyrics from merely off the page, to directly into the heart of the listener. There’s real experience and integrity coming from them road-worn vocal chords.
Connolly’s roots rock / blues background is on full display for the album’s opening track “Bus Station,” not to mention a penchant for colorful songwriting. Although I could be wrong, one could argue that the inspiration for the characters in his station are autobiographically based: ”Here comes Indiana Jones in his canvas pants, headlights flash like camouflage dance / Looking for fresh air and homemade granola, he’s a fanny sackin, tree hugging man of devotion.”
On “Here Comes Whitey,” Connolly delivers the inevitable ode to one of the most notorious organized crime figures of the last 50 years, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. “Here comes Jimmy with a butcher knife — someone’s getting beaten within an inch of their life / Dont you act too cool , dont you talk too much. — Whatcha gonna do with a gun in your mouth.”
Flipping the spectrum of tribute paying to its other end, Connolly delivers a soulful and touchingly heartfelt gift to his young daughter with the ballad “Blow Them Away.” It takes a lot to get through to my cynical heart, but the following line actually set my lower lip a-quivering: “Your mother and me we see an innocent child… let the world be forewarned of your hurricane ways. You’ll blow them away.” Simply put, that is some great songwriting.
I would be remiss if I didn’t underscore Jim Connolly’s unique bass playing throughout Ice Fishing. Big brother’s upright slides and wraps around Kevin’s melody in a way that perks the listener’s ear and makes the tracks anything but predictable. The symbiotic musical relationship the Connolly men have is nothing short of magical. And perhaps Kevin Connolly sums it up best in the liner notes of Ice Fishing: “I’m lucky to have him, and so is he…”
The Noise, A.J. Wachtel (Boston) on Ice Fishing—Kevin has been on the local scene making music since the ’80s with his band The Great Divide, and this is his 10th CD. His first in five years. He plays the guitar and does all the vocals and his older brother Jim provides upright bass, banjo, piano, backing vocals, percussion, and melodica. This is basically a labor of love between two brothers on different coasts and it took three years of trading files to complete. Legendary local production ace Ducky Carlisle plays drums and produces the material. The voice is very personal and you get the feeling that Connolly is singing just to you, which is what you expect from such a personal project. The songs are all ballads at different tempos and every song has either country, folk, or rock influences. I like the uptempo opener “Bus Station” with the neat mid-song bass riff, the almost twangy “Up On Willoughby,” and the folkie “Blow Them Away,” about his daughter’s coming of age. I also dig the country-rock “Here Comes Whitey” about you know who. The nice country/folk ballad “Interstate” and the pop/rock ballad “Just About To Fall” are both sweetly special too. There are nice harmonies on “Bus Station,” “Hot In Arizona,” and “Busy Thinking Bout Love.” Cool music for the heart and soul from a vet.
Boston Globe on "North/East" song collaboration with author Leigh Montville
Evel doings: Boston Globe
By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
October 11, 2010
In recent years, former Globe scribe Leigh Montville has written well-received books about Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Dale Earnhardt, and Manute Bol. His latest, which is nearly done, is a bio of Evel Knievel, the motorcycle daredevil whose stunts included a wildly unsuccessful attempt in 1974 to jump Snake River Canyon. Evel’s is such a great story that Montville has put him to music. Actually, his singer/songwriter friend Kevin Connolly has. On his new CD “North/East,’’ Connolly has a song called “Evel Knievel’’ with lyrics provided by Montville (“He was born in Butte, Montana/ raised on gasoline’’). Connolly debuted the song at Club Passim the other night and Montville was impressed. “Maybe I could be like Bernie Taupin,’’ said the author, referring to Elton John’s lyricist. “Maybe if Bruce [Springsteen] is having a bad day, I could help him.’’ Hmm. Don’t quit your day job.
Patriot Ledger Review by Jay Miller
By Jay N. Miller
For The Patriot Ledger
Posted Oct 01, 2010 @ 01:20 PM
The cliche idea of the tortured artist, forever on the road looking for love and adventure, might be disappearing in Kevin Connolly’s rearview mirror. But the Marshfield musician has found he can still mine his life for inspiration.
“As soon as you stop writing about love in every song, it can be liberating,” said Connolly, from his day job as sales manager at WROR. “I have the quintessential happy, suburban family life, but it would probably be boring and repetitious to keep going back to writing about that.”
Connolly’s new album “North/East” is a collection of short stories delivered in Connolly’s gruff baritone. Connolly and his quartet will celebrate the CD’s release Saturday night at Club Passim in Harvard Square. Boston rocker and Connolly pal, Dennis Brennan, will open the show.
“The last few years, I have not been on the road like before, so this is a more journalistic approach,” he said. “I’m trying to bring my perspective into different places, projecting myself into different characters and letting them tell their stories.”
Several songs on the new album might startle listeners with their vivid depiction of familiar New England themes. The examination of the worn-out mill town in “Fall River,” which covers the displacement of workers, economic struggle, outsourcing, possible LNG terminal construction, and the supposed panacea of a proposed casino, is stunningly evocative. Connolly wrote it as a challenge to himself, aiming for a gig he had coming up at the Narrows Center in that city.
“Knowing I was going to play in Fall River in a month, I enjoyed the experience of giving myself an assignment. I did my research, and began reading their local papers everyday online.”
That song was a deviation from what Connolly usually does.
“I don’t do political songs,” Connolly added. “It’s meant more as a social point of view, asking questions, without preaching at anyone. I think it’s a real question now – what do we do with these old towns? I wouldn’t do a whole record like that, it’s a bit dark, but isn’t this what you’re supposed to do as a songwriter: make people think?”
Several of Connolly’s early songs have immortalized “MarshVegas,” but none of the tunes inspired by Marshfield have ever touched a universal chord like the heartbreaking ballad, “The Fishing Life,” with its eerie portrait of a wife aching for her man to return from the Stellwagen Bank.
“Growing up on the water as I did, I had always wanted to write a song like this. In Marshfield, we grew up with families whose fathers were fishermen, or lobstermen, and it’s a risky way to make a living. Anytime the weather turns on you, it can become very dangerous – and it’s just as hard on the wives waiting at home with the family,” Connolly said.
The song “Battle Road” grew out of one of Connolly’s 5-mile walks with his dog by the Lexington historic site near his present home. In it he muses about conflict from the American Revolution to Afghanistan, and even domestic conflicts in the homes along the route. “I remember thinking, as I read all those great street signs, Who’d ever write a song about this road?” he said. “But it is relevant today, because close by is Hanscom Field, where military aircraft are constantly coming in and out. There’s also a lab nearby that does military research. And, of course when I saw a silhouette of a couple fighting in one of those homes, it seemed pretty ironic.”
The song “Evel Knievel” was inspired by Connolly’s friend, former Sports Illustrated writer and biographer Leigh Montville. Knievel is also the subject of Montville’s next book.
“That song was sort of my smart-ass commentary, showing Leigh that doing it my way, you can cover Knievel’s life in four minutes,” Connolly said, laughing.
Other more or less topical songs include “Living On the Street,” an unsparing look at a homeless man, and “Mass. Ave.” where a veteran returns home from overseas duty.
“I wanted to do a song about the homeless without being overly sentimental,” said Connolly. “My model was William Kennedy’s book, ‘Ironweed,’ and it’s a dark story, but, essentially, here’s a guy who made his own choices. ‘Mass. Ave.’ is more about a soldier coming home, and appreciating his old life.”
The new album isn’t all dark and moody. Lively songs like “Already There” and “Let’s Say You Do” evoke John Hiatt’s serio-comic family songs, while “Chevy Impala” is a classic rock ode to one’s first car. But then “Doesn’t Mean (That I’m In Love)” and “Wonder” put new spins on those classic romantic themes Connolly has mostly abandoned.
“Chevy Impala’ is a cool, fun song, that hopefully transports you to all those places,” Connolly said. “I list all those places to go at the end, because I love using names and real places – just like in the ‘Fall River’ song. ‘Already There’ grew out of those typical family drives where the kids are always asking ‘are we there yet?’ and I always want to tell them, ‘pipe down, we’re already there.’ That song ‘Doesn’t Mean’ is a lot poppier than anything else.”
Connolly will be playing at Bull McCabe’s in Somerville on Friday, Oct. 15, and at O’Shea’s in Dennis on Saturday, Oct 23. REVAMPED PARADISE: Got our first look at the renovated Paradise last weekend, and the changes are nice. The stage has been centered between the two support pillars, a main level bar has been moved to the side, and the mid-level boxes have been eliminated, providing much more space on the floor. The balcony has been widened and enlarged, and traffic flow is much easier there. Best for touring bands, the expanded dressing room area now includes a new shower and laundry room with washer-dryer. All of the changes added 122 patrons to the club’s capacity, bringing the total to 850. During the soldout show by Irish rockers James it was easy to move around freely and didn’t feel crowded.
ERELLI IN CONCERT: Another outstanding roots music album just out is “Little Vigils” from Somerville’s Mark Erelli. It’s also a scaled down effort recorded the old-timey way, with Jake Armerding’s mandolin and fiddle part of the superb backing band. Erelli appears Saturday night at the East Weymouth Congregational Church, at 1320 Commercial St., at Jackson Square. (15, showtime 8 p.m. parking free). Make sure he plays “August” and “Kingdom Come,” two standout cuts from the new CD.
KEVIN CONNOLLY 8 p.m. Saturday at Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge, $15 at the door, $13 in advance. 617-492-7679.
Copyright 2010 The Patriot Ledger. Some rights reserved
Best Albums of 2008
Jay Miller/ Patriot Ledger
``STILL STANDING STILL'' by KEVIN CONNOLLY (www.kevinconnolly.com) Don’t class this Connolly album among the folkies; he’s mostly backed here by a quintet led by co producers Chris Rival (guitar) and Ducky Carlisle (drums) and it’s as rocking as any John Mellencamp or Ryan Adams album. Marshfield native Connolly writes with precision and heart, his admirable economy of words nonetheless hitting the emotional target like a laser. Check out tunes like ``Everything I Wanted,'' ``Can’t Feel the Rain,'' and ``Undefeated'' and ask yourself if you’ve ever heard better crafted songs. If Connolly didn’t have such a good ``day job'' (at Channel 7), he’d be considered among the nation’s front rank of songwriters. As it is, he’s just another New England treasure.
New York Times …"Connolly’s music cuts a fairly wide swath through pop music culture, touching on everything from blues to folk to country to rock — and often a combination of all four"
WUMB......"(Still Standing Still) Outstanding.....quickly becoming a WUMB favourite!" Brian Quinn/Music Directpr
Dirty Linen Magazine- The songs reflect his grounding in an array of roots music styles...earthy, rhythmic collections of dark-tinged musings, rich ballads. The gravelly, weatherbeaten voice of Connolly gives life to vivid vignettes sculpted from painstaking realism. His live performances are intense, the focused flow of music and energy interspersed with dry, laconic humor.
Patriot Ledger..."a treasure worth discovering"
Yummy List/Holly Gleason..."A rugged voice that creates a reality where you can live honestly, dream reasonably and believe in the songs"
Boston Magazine ... "Best of Boston"
Album Network ... "A songwriter's songwriter, an uncompromising performer and an original personality"
CMJ ... "a startlingly rewarding artist"
Boston Phoenix ... "Literary, serious, reflective, soulful, eclectic, blues-driven... the crowd needed two encores, a testimony to Connolly's ability to spin his energy into the room."
Barnes Newberry/Highway 61 Revisited WUMB—"Kevin Connolly has been diligently working his craft for many years and may have finally hit his stride with his latest cd, Still Standing Still. Backed by some of Boston's finest players, it is a fully-realized, mature work where the lyrics and the music resonate with the listener and the songs each stand, not "still," but strong! From the infectious Bumpy Road to the rockin' Walking Out In The Woods, Kevin has shown what hard work can accomplish! Catch him soon, folks, he's the real deal!"
Leight Montville (author) "So I’m singing in the car again with Kevin Connolly. He’s inside the dashboard, doing his part from an aging CD player, taking care of the guitar and the melody and the words and, OK, just about everything else on ‘Mystery Water,’ his latest recorded effort. I’m doing, uh, background vocals. Harmonies, that’s what I’m doing. I’m singing about ‘bottom feeders and misdemeanors’ and longshoreman days on Castle Island and fast-talking, out-of-control women and spinning like a pinwheel in an idiot wind and exploding cigarettes and monkey bars and I’m screaming, OK, ‘do me.’ Whatever that means. I even have a little air guitar solo and body language thing that I add on certain tunes. I could be singing with Springsteen or Sinatra, you know, singing with anyone living or dead who ever sang a song in all of music history. I’m singing with Kevin – not Caruso or Eddie Vedder or Joey Ramone – because his songs on this CD are new and different and just terrific. Check us out, Kevin and me, appearing in a high-speed lane near you"
Patriot Ledger... from Top Sounds of 2005…"A stellar acoustic jewel of an album… It is no stretch to view this album as a New Englander’s companion piece to ‘‘Devils and Dust,’’ with similar depth and passion, and no punches pulled…riveting." (Jay Miller/Patriot Ledger)
The Noise …"It’s an acoustic folkie-type offering with great production and incredible songs. By incredible, I mean that the songs have remarkable musical variety and lyrical depth. And they’re catchy, too. Connolly’s songs sound vaguely Tom Waits-ish, vaguely Celtic, vaguely like the last Johnny Cash recording, and lyrically, vaguely Springsteen-ish, as if the Boss had grown up on the South Shore instead of the Jersey Shore. Although the songs are sonically spare, with only vocals, acoustic guitars, and minimal percussion, Kevin Connolly exhibits a range of moods, in a way that, say, Picasso’s pencil drawings might. As a testament to Connolly’s songwriting expertise, I can imagine his songs translating well to any style…" (Robin Umbley)
Holly Gleason/The Yummy List "A rugged voice that at times suggests the Springsteen of Greetings From Asbury Park, Boston-based Connolly sits low in the groove and offers up postcards and polaroids from a world that is faithful in the hard spots, committed where it'd be just as easy to walk on and thrilled by the smallest things. It's not necessarily easy or convenient, but it creates a reality where you can live honestly, dream reasonably and believe in the songs."
New York Times ..."Connolly’s music cuts a fairly wide swath through pop music culture, touching on everything from blues to folk to country to rock — and often a combination of all four."
WMNF Tampa- "Kevin's music has been a welcome staple of WMNF's programming for years and years. The man can tell stories and write melodies that get under your skin." -- Cameron Dilley/ DJ
Patriot Ledger..."a treasure worth discovering"
Boston Magazine ... "Best of Boston"
Album Network ... "A songwriter's songwriter, an uncompromising performer and an original personality"
CMJ ... "A startlingly rewarding artist"
Boston Phoenix ... "Literary, serious, reflective, soulful, eclectic, blues-driven, and occasionally goofy ... the crowd needed two encores, a testimony to Connolly's ability to spin his energy into the room."
Constantine Report ... "Connolly writes great songs, and this album serves notice that he will be around for a while."
The Boston Globe ... "A packed house, and a concert that exceeded expectations ... Connolly was a delight."
The Wenatchee (WA) World ... "I was completely inspired that a person could be that good at something, let alone that good of a performer of 20 terrific songs about the dream of living."
KPFK (Los Angeles) ... "A wonderful singer, an imaginative write,r a rare treat to experience."
WGBH-FM (Boston) ... "One of New England's best young singer/songwriters. He pushes his stories beyond conventional standards " La Republicca (Italian newspaper) ... "One of the most interesting voices coming out of the American scene today."
Santa Barbara News-Press ... "Penetrating imagery that immediately demanded attention ... it's hard to imagine how Connolly has avoided more widespread acclaim and bigger record deals."
Monterey County Herald ... "Roots-rock muscle and assured songwriting, humorous but not self-consciously so, deeply emotional without being maudlin ... surely one of the best shows of the year."
Entertainment Times ... "A seductive, thought-provoking compilation of tunes that speak to the universality of the small-town American experience."
Download PDF of 11X17 Poster
Download full length Mystery Water review in Patriot Ledger
Download full length article on Kevin in Dirty Linen Magazine
MUSIC SCENE: The top sounds of 2005
By JAY N. MILLER
For The Patriot Ledger
‘‘MYSTERY WATER,’’ Kevin Connolly (Kevin Connolly Music-- www.kevinconnolly.com)
Marshfield native Connolly returns with a stellar acoustic jewel of an album, backed by multi-instrumentalist Steve Sadler and drummer/producer Ducky Carlisle. Songs like the title cut, referencing his South Shore childhood, and ‘‘Castle Island,’’ recalling his dad’s post-Korean War experiences working in South Boston, make this a special treat for local fans. But other tunes like ‘‘Do Me,’’ ‘‘Out of My Head’’ and ‘‘When You Fall in Love’’ tap into that universal vein that makes Connolly’s work so riveting.
It is no stretch to view this album as a New Englander’s companion piece to ‘‘Devils and Dust,’’ with similar depth and passion, and no punches pulled.