Album Review: Greasy Elbows // David Kay

Photo: Graham Binns

The UK’s pubs and dark rooms are among the most honest places when it comes to music. An acoustic artist spilling their life story, background and even their upbringing into a set before strangers can be an intimate, often relatable affair. David Kay has released his debut album Greasy Elbows and it creates a scenario nothing short of the above.

In January 2015 we reviewed one of his early singles ‘In Search of Snow’. Since then, Kay has been somewhat of a grafter through persistent UK-wide touring with the additional venture into Europe. Not to mention a notable return home gig supporting The Twang at the Drawing Room in Barrow. In amongst all the live shows, the important graft has been taking place in the studio.

David Kay’s debut album is something of a goldmine for lyrical content. The immediate eyecatcher is the energetic ‘The Way It’s Always Been’ – a track that captures the concerns of a teenager making the transition into adulthood. At this stage in your life you question all the wrongs in the world, all the things you were too naive to notice as a child. “Boys are being brain washed by ‘Lad Culture’” expresses an ever-relevant generational stigma.

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“Shops are being looted and we are turning into vultures” could possibly be a dramatic reference to the 2011 riots that spread country wide and lasted 5 days. The reasons for the riots can be debated but one contributing factor is the deep social division between youth and the older generation. The increasing gap between rich and poor as well as the moral decay at the top of politics of MP’s expenses scandals, bankers’ bonuses and tax dodging setting a disgraceful example. “All you seem to do is lie through my TV” expresses the real distrust and disenchantment young people have with the political elite.

The political awareness Kay showcases would suggest Billy Bragg and Paul Weller have been bread and butter influences as a teen. This has formed a unique type of writing for a modern day singer/songwriter.

‘Can’t Mend’ is a successful grungy arrangement reminiscent of Blink-182’s ‘I Miss You’. The rawness of the production sounds like it was conjured up in someone’s garage. Kay executes the role of being an observer in ‘Nowhere to Go’. The staccato chord progression provides a tapping beat which emphasises the catchy verses. You can’t help but feel the stop/start melody helps the portray the crazy character described in the song. ‘Wasted All My Time’ has a post-heartbreak angst with a likeness many of Ryan Adams’ records.

Folk/Acoustic is genre which has sadly become overlooked and something of the past in recent times, possibly due to the saturation of X-Factor auditionee acoustic-types gracing our television sets on a Saturday night with a rendition of ‘Firestone’ by Kygo. If we consider today’s current offering of solo acoustic singer/songwriters at the top of the industry (James Bay, George Ezra, Ed Sheeran) they are a far cry from the genre that Neil Young and Bob Dylan built. The true substance behind in the lyrics seems to be more vivid. The songs are too manufactured and the perception of a folk musician has shifted.

This is arguably acceptable, its pop music after all. However, when authentic artists “play in bars to no one or a 10 sheet at the end” and rely on that money to pay rent, something is failing. Kay’s album opener ‘Greasy Elbows’ focuses on that particular theme, calling for unity of fellow artists: “we need to stick together and to help each other out”.

The biggest insight into Kay’s personal life appears to be ‘Trying to Stay Alive’. “Greg goes to the Army in October / Katie is due her baby in the Spring” expresses the inevitable life changes of the people you grow up with. “I don’t want to live here and die here” summarises Kay’s ambition and the drive for touring new places.

While the content on the whole is exceptional, the album isn’t without its flaws. The ordering of the tracks could have been better. As a debut release and a relatively unknown artist it’s important to have an audience grabbing opener. ‘The Way It’s Always Been’ would have been more a favorable option as the track possesses so many thought provoking one liners as well as an energetic pace. ‘Greasy Elbows’ feels too delinquent and summative to be at the start of the record as it suits the tail end of the album.

Moving forward and developing as artist is important. Bringing an electric guitar to the fray in the right measures providing riffs to open and break songs up can complete the David Kay sound while truly amplifying the meanings in his material.

There’s no doubt David Kay is working hard to fulfill his ambitions. Relentless touring is admirable. Making a record without the support of a label is an achievement Kay can be proud of. Now the music is out there, it needs to be heard. The talent and drive is evident. The songs written thus far withhold a certain relatability for young people and if the music is heard the opportunities are endless.

Kay offers a refreshing alternative and something new to what’s currently out there. He tackles political issues comfortably. He touches on generational issues. There is a space waiting for an artist like this. David Kay has shown with his debut that he is growing into a unique musical identity.

Greasy Elbows is now available on iTunes

7.5/10

Words by Aaron Spencer

@aaronlspencer

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