Since his long-awaited solo album in 2018, Myles Kennedy hasn’t had the opportunity to sit still. He toured the hell out of Year of the Tiger, released a third album with a certain top hat-wearing guitarist, toured the hell out of that, released a sixth Alter Bridge album and while the tour for that commenced, it seemed the world had other plans. But in the face of global adversity, Kennedy assembled a crack team of long-time collaborators and put together a second solo album. Much akin to its predecessor, The Ides of March is unlike what you’d hear from Kennedy in his two full-time gigs but still everything you’d expect him to put his name to.
What’s immediately apparent on this album is a bigger focus on variation, being louder and more brash but staying true to the rootsy base of its predecessor as it explodes into life with “Get Along”. The bigger shift is found in its lyrical content as the deliberate thematic introspection is replaced with a more outward-looking focus found within portions of Alter Bridge’s and the Conspirators’ back catalogues. Much like Duff Mckagan’s Tenderness, it never turns into a full-tilt political or societal rap and finger-pointing. Kennedy airs his fears for the direction of the human race but characteristically offers hope and to hold on as “this too shall pass”, reminding us not to sweat the small stuff and find unity, community and co-operation where we can.
Lead single, “In Stride” is a reminder to breathe, full of sludgy slide guitar, meeting at the point where blues and country cross. It’s a boisterous affair, backed by Zia Uddin’s pounding, foreboding drums, acting as a warning. However, warnings don’t come much bigger than the title track as Kennedy acts as a cynical guide to remind us of Caesar’s downfall, that debts ultimately need to be repaid and to hold onto our own humanity without veering into blind optimism. Moreover, it’s epic in the true sense of the word; stretching over seven minutes and showing the full gamut of Kennedy’s vocal range. Working his way from sombre whispers to rage-fuelled roars and everything in-between, he deftly duets with himself on guitar in order to constantly raise the stakes and build to a shattering crescendo.
“A Thousand Words” cements the bombastic nature of the album before the rest of the tracks have a chance to speak for themselves. Between its massive chorus and spine-tingling guitar solo which serves as a reminder of how fluid his guitar work is. It’s the closest the album strays into the familiar and deftly disappears to return to the Southern swagger without the slightest hint of whiplash. Meanwhile, album closer “Worried Mind” follows the pattern of the title track and “Love Rain Down” with its simple opening, slowly building into a monster of a song, complete with a sparse yet technical bluesy interlude. For many, it will be the vocals that attract listeners to this album but numbers like this show where Kennedy is truly pushing himself on this album. Vocally, he’s in fine form and can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of his back catalogue but it’s in the music itself where he really gets a chance to flex his muscles. Nothing ever feels heavy-handed, melodies are organic as genres and sub-genres intermingle and it’s obvious when it comes to solos, Kennedy puts as much thought into the notes he doesn’t play as the ones he does play.
The afore-mentioned soulful and tender “Love Rain Down” works as its own highlight on the album. It’s a track filled with longing and anguish, complete with a tenderness to his vocals reminiscent of The Mayfield Four, albeit with the added insight of experience and wisdom. With the addition of Zia Uddin’s sweeping drum work puncturing the track at the halfway point and elevating its grandiosity, it evolves completely into a song which could have easily featured on Fallout. Elsewhere, there’s the bouncy country-infused “Tell it Like it Is”, reminiscent of mid-90s Quireboys and “Sifting Through the Fire” with its subtle nod to The Allman Brothers Band, laden with its Southern twangs. “Wanderlust Begins” is filled with acoustic strings and mandolin, backed by a steady rhythm to satisfy those who enjoyed the slow and comfortable amble of Year of the Tiger without ever feeling like a leftover from that album.
Whilst The Ides of March could be filled with bitterness, Myles Kennedy steadfastly holds onto a belief in people – that when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will swing back. As classic rock, blues, country, Americana, Southern rock all mingle on one album, nothing feels out of place due to their similarities by nature. Backed by the afore-mentioned Uddin and Tim Tournier holding down the bass duties and long-time producer Michael Baskette, Kennedy’s vocals ensure it’s a cohesive listen and feels like a full band effort rather than a solo work. It never feels like grandstanding as he chooses to bolster what we already know his voice is capable of and maintaining his reign as rock’s premier vocalist.
Header image by Chuck Brueckmann