You know the feeling... it's in a dark and dingy speakeasy, where the crushed spirits are as faded and frayed as the crushed velvet. It's in a roadside motel, where the “Vacancy” sign welcomes weary travelers and wayward souls too far from any kind of home. It's in a smoky bar, where pool balls crack to a jukebox soundtrack of whiskey and indifference. It's in a late-night diner, where the fluorescent lights hum under the sound of breaking dishes and broken dreams. It's in any scene in a David Lynch film. And it's in Kim Lenz's latest release, Slowly Speeding.
Lenz is a songwriter, performer, bandleader, engineer and producer who pores over every nuance of her music to ensure maximum potency. The 10 songs on Slowly Speeding, her fifth solo album, brim with growling vocals, clever turns of phrase and heightened musicianship that services both the songs and the emotional intent behind them.
“When I started my first band, the woman I most wanted to emulate was Barbara Pittman,” she says. “She is a little-known rockabilly singer who had a few great songs recorded at Sun Studios during their heyday. Wanda Jackson was also an influence, and, of course Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers, as well as Little Richard with his forceful way of singing and growling... and hiccuping.”
Lenz released her debut album in 1998 as Kim Lenz & the Jaguars, via Hightone Records. Heralded as the “Flame-haired keeper of the rockabilly flame” by Allmusic, Lenz reached the highest heights of the 90’s rockabilly revival. At the same time, she established her own distinctive voice as an artist who inhabited the musical and aesthetic traditions of a classic era, even as she subverted them. At the same time, she populated her band with top-notch players like bassist Jake Erwin (Hot Club of Cowtown) and the late guitarist Nick Curran (Ronnie Dawson, Fabulous Thunderbirds).
For Slowly Speeding, Lenz pulled the most essential elements of the past forward into the present and gave her own voice to it. Lenz's sonic vision for the project was to combine her favorite tones from her most-treasured records, regardless of genre or era, and co-producer DH Phillips was the perfect partner in crime. They looked to early blues, classic country, and old-time gospel harmonies. ”The idea was to try to use all the ingredients that made up rock & roll, but shift around the time frames,” she offers. “I started out in the '90s making traditional rockabilly music,” she continues. “But in my journey to understand how rockabilly and rock & roll came into being, I found blues, rhythm & blues, gospel, Western swing, and country music.”
“In my mind, this is an album of love stories, of learning to wield the powerful emotions love brings us to,” Lenz offers. The powerful, intoxicating love in this story, though, isn't the fairytale kind. It all starts with the title track, “a slightly off-kilter waltz for a slightly off-kilter love affair.” As the first song written for the project, it sets the pace for what follows — a gauzy, Western Gothic gaze into the heart of a woman who has abandoned her walls and inhibitions so that this deep, dark love might overtake her.
The narrator of this song cycle is, indeed, consumed by desire, for her lover, for herself, for her world. She struggles to stay strong, even as her “Bogeyman” beckons. She leans into the fear and fantasy of what is and what could be. “It wasn’t that she was afraid of him physically — more terrified of how he made her feel,” Lenz notes. “The interlude at the top of the record is her sitting at her dressing table contemplating if she can handle this much emotion. She’s going against her head, but her heart slams her hands down on the table and powder fills the air.”
That feminist ideal of resilience rises again and again throughout Slowly Speeding.“Mother Earth played a big part in this project,” Lenz says. “Pine trees, willow trees, the stars, the moon, the ground cracking, wild oaks, thunderstorms, rivers, the sea... nature as a metaphor for strong emotion and the strength of women.” Sex, too, plays its part, as it would in any great love story. “I think all the love and sex and nature go hand-in-hand to cement the feel of this record,” Lenz explains.
Those things are often mercurial, and sometimes brutal, in their contours, the moments that make up a life in which one decision changes everything forevermore, as in the moan-filled chug of “Guilty.” “It only takes a second for a shot to leave a gun. It only takes a moment for a heart to be undone. It only takes an instant for your soul to turn to black,” Lenz snarls. “Because bullets, blood, and buckled knees cannot be taken back.”
All those sounds come together here to convey the feeling of buoyantly sinking, of desperately hoping, of Slowly Speeding.