Wednesday night, Kevin Gordon introduced the final song of his set (not counting the obligatory encore, of course), with a warning of sorts. It was, he said, a song that had its origins in the Louisiana where he grew up, a story from his youth (he was 13 at the time), and it was long — “a long song but a short movie,” as he jokingly put it.
What followed was “Colfax/Step In Time,” from his latest record, “Gloryland,” one of the most remarkable of the many remarkable songs that Gordon has written. It’s a story-song that manages to combine a self-deprecating look back at the juvenile delinquency, raging hormones, and other foibles of the high school male with the sudden entrance of a racial situation that vibrates with danger. And it was, no joke, of cinematic proportions.
The last time Gordon was in town, he had a band with him, but Wednesday night, as on many nights, it was just his voice and his guitar. His 10-song, hourlong set combined the intensity of his music and performance with his sly, understated between-song commentary (noting that he had recorded the song “Down to the Well” with Lucinda Williams, he remarked that Williams couldn’t be here tonight; “Thank you for understanding”).
By Gordon’s reckoning, his songs tend to be rooted in the places — Louisiana, Nashville, Iowa — he’s lived and grown. In addition to “Colfax,” Wednesday’s sampling included “Brownie Ford,” a new song about a character from Gordon’s youth who actually ran away with the circus, and “Black Dog,” an “east Nashville song” in which, as Gordon’s gloss had it, his dog plays a metaphorical role for the unbridled desires of the middle-aged man.
All of those songs showed an unparalleled songwriter at work, using his roots to look for larger truths. And his singing and playing demonstrated that, for him, a solo arrangement isn’t lacking, but different. As he moved from blues (“Burning the Church House Down”) to spare folk (“Brownie Ford”) to muscular roots-rock (“Down to the Well”) to classic, full-tilt rock ’n’ roll (“Illinois 5 a.m.”, his update of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land”), his guitar work — shimmering, intense, stinging and slashing, maxed out on reverb — filled the room in a way that seemed to make even the space between the notes he played reverberate.
Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.