“Don’t settle, please don’t settle, whatever you do... Promise me you won’t settle, if it isn’t in the heart of you.”
So pleads BEN KYLE on the harmony stacked, soul saturated, pedal steel inflected, first cut from the self-titled debut recording from the Romantica frontman.
The emotion is clear; the delivery sincere; the voice has a gravity and a grace; the tone is warm; the groove organic; and the feel is real.
Kyle spent 3 years, in studios across the country, working on Romantica’s follow up to America, heralded by PASTE as “one of the best albums of 2007,” only to put those efforts to rest and start over. “I found myself writing songs 'for the sake of' another album as opposed to 'from the heart' and trying to capture the 'energy' of a live show in a recording, instead of trying to make something 'beautiful'”
So after enlisting all of his Romantica companions (Ryan Lovan, Tony Zaccardi, Luke Jacobs, Dave Strahan, Aaron Fabbrini and Jayanthi Kyle) as well as a fine crew of guests (Carrie Rodriguez, Eric Heywood (Ray LaMontagne), Jessy Greene (Foo Fighters) and Jt Bates (Pieta Brown, The Pines)) Kyle hunkered down in his home studio (birthplace of America) once again, over a period of 9 months, with a new batch of ‘heart’ songs and a strong cast of seasoned players, to see if they could birth something ‘beautiful.’
There’s no manufactured energy here. But beauty? Yes. From the achingly romantic “The Dark” (a track that Kyle debuted on stage with Ryan Adams singing harmony), to the sweetly sung, gently swung “Turf Club” tribute to the beloved St Paul, MN music club (featuring Rodriguez’s Texas fiddle) to the deftly poetic, deeply poignant reflection on life, work and fatherhood in “The Child” - the melodies are sweet, the harmonies are honeyed, the music (harnessing the pedal power of 4 pedal steel players) is like a warm glove around Kyle’s softly spoken but soul invoking voice and the effect is infectious.
Belfast born and Minneapolis bred Kyle formed Romantica in 2002 lending his heartbreaking Irish tenor to the front of a country-rock informed folk-americana outfit. The band released 3 full lengths including the critically heralded America and the (written and recorded in one day, during SXSW in Austin, TX.) tongue-in-cheek entitled Control Alt Country Delete. Romantica’s touring partnership with Carrie Rodriguez led to Ben recording a Duets album with Carrie in late 2010 - We Still Love Our Country’s co-written originals and classic country duets were a smash with Americana radio and led to intensified touring of the US and Europe.
But the modest career success had something of an ironic twist in Kyle’s personal life...
“I realized how deeply I valued my home and my family as my work was taking me away from them more often, and for longer stretches of time. I knew that labels and the industry are always telling you. ‘You have to tour, tour, tour, if you want to succeed.’ But I discovered that that wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. And therefore that wasn’t the kind of success I wanted either.”
A husband and father of 3, Kyle’s fondness for family and home and his struggle with a vocation that often separates them, is profoundly evident in the material here. From the ‘old school’ nostalgia on the “Simple Life,” to the plainspoken gratitude on “Thank You,” to the existential prayer on “God Only Knows.”
“God only knows how the wind’s gonna blow, and how it all flows together. If the words we use, or the wars we choose, are gonna change somebody for the better.”
“I discovered that I wasn’t interested in ‘making it’ as an artist if that meant not ‘being there’ as a dad. I was much more interested in making beautiful music than making it as a Rock Star. And you can even do that from your own home (studio)! So when it came to the next project, for me it wasn’t about getting the next marketable product out to keep the train rolling and the career climbing, so I could spend more years on the road! But it was about not settling for something that my heart wasn’t behind 100%, and making sure I made a record that I felt was beautiful and that I believed in.”
The 8 time International Songwriting Competition winner didn’t settle. But rather Mr. Kyle, assisted generously by a stellar circle of tasteful players, put his songwriting dexterity to careful and meaningful work, in this acute collection of intensely personal, helplessly universal, beautifully soul-filled songs, aptly titled BEN KYLE. “The move from the Romantica moniker to Ben Kyle for this album had more to do with the deeply personal nature of the songs than anything else… as well as the fact that I had a dream by which I interpreted I should take my given name for this project… but that’s another story altogether!”
When pressed about self-titling the debut, Kyle quips, “If it was good enough for Dylan, Young and GP, then it’s good enough for me!”