“He’s phenomenal.” – Ryan Adams

I recently heard a song called ‘Memories & Birds’ by a North Carolina songwriter named Kenny Roby that floored me.” – Citizen Cope

“I’ve known Kenny since the ‘90s. Ever since 6 String Drag, I’ve thought this guy is one of the best songwriters in the country.” – Neal Casal

Raleigh, NC-based singer/songwriter Kenny Roby has announced the release of Memories & Birds due April 2 on Little Criminal Records. The eight-song effort is the first new album in over six years and fourth overall from the founding member of the acclaimed ’90s alt-country/indie rock band, 6 String Drag. Co-produced by Jason Merritt (Chatham County Line, Tift Merritt), Memories & Birds was recorded over six months and incorporates 12 musicians to create the album’s often lush and evocative orchestrations.

“On many of the songs I pictured the characters living during classic periods and places in American modern music. I tried to touch on the feeling of the popular music from that time, whether it be the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s, but without coming off as retro. We took our time developing the arrangements and searching for the right colors that complimented their stories and where and when these people live.” says Roby. “With all of that said, stylistically much of this record seems timeless to me and lyrically many of these characters could be from any period. There is rarely a lyric that dates them.”

Much like the characters that inhabit his songs, Kenny Roby’s life as an artist has been an intellectual and spiritual quest. Over the course of a 20-year career, he has explored the history of music with a musicologist’s zeal, absorbing its various forms and sounds into his work. Simultaneously, he has taken a long hard look in the mirror through the writing process, discovering and reflecting back a piece of himself through his songs. Charting the continuum of that journey leads to Memories & Birds, an ambitious vision of a Southern past littered with provocative characters and the dark, foreboding places they inhabit.

“Coming in to the recording process, I had a collection of songs and ideas that related to the darker side of the human experience. The songs wanted to move slower for the most part and I wanted to keep it that way,” says Roby. “As a listener, I get on kicks where I really gravitate toward records that are slower-paced. I like it when an album doesn’t feel the need to speed up or even brighten up too much thematically. They can just be that late night or early morning ballad record.”

Filled with surprising twists and turns, shadowy corners and broken dreams, the narrative thread running throughout this complex eight-song cycle evokes the stark imagery and themes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy and Comac McCarthy, while emerging from the musical lineage of Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, Randy Newman, Tom Waits and the like. These are song-stories of loss, isolation, desire, rejection, resignation, despair, aging and anxiety.

There’s the young boy, “The Craziest Kid Around,” discovering the mysterious world around him and the colorful and often dangerous, conflicted characters within that world. When the craziest kid becomes a dark, defeated and criminal adult in the track “Colorado,” he says, “I ain’t the worst man you’ve ever known/But I’d be willing to make a bet/that every devil here ain’t born full grown/And we ain’t met all of ‘em yet”.

There’s the woman trapped in the pain and despair of a loveless marriage to a returned war veteran, ironically within the Motown-meets-bubblegum pop of “Tired Of Being In Love”: “I know I can be simple/Simple used to get it done (oh it used to be enough for you)/I lay alone in bed inside his head/After dinner served for one (so alone).”

In “A Short Mile” the same husband confesses” “I know I’m breakin’ you/I can see it in your smile/I’m the wrong man to ride the short mile.”

“Most of the characters seemed to be loners. Even when they are surrounded by family, friends and lovers they are alone,” explains Roby. “None of their tales are written from my perspective, but from the narrator’s perspective. Of course I inhabit a little bit of each of them.”

Roby’s empathy for these characters is undoubtedly informed by his own travels. He briefly lived the dream with his former band 6 String Drag. In the late ’90s, they were heralded alongside fellow next-big-thing North Carolinians’ Whiskeytown and The Backsliders, wined and dined by the major label machine and ultimately signed and produced by Steve Earle. Just as quickly, it all disappeared when hard living, the arrival of children and the strain of the music business hustle caused the band to dissolve. Roby persevered, however, releasing three exquisite, but vastly different solo records: Mercury’s
Blues (1999), Rather Not Know (2003) and The Mercy Filter (2006).

Circa 2007, he went on hiatus to further hone his craft, raise his family and bide his time. So while Memories & Birds could be called a comeback, existentially speaking, it’s a debut. Wiser for his experiences and no longer chasing the cliché of success, Kenny Roby returns, purely, the poet, the songwriter, the musician and the artist that he’s always been and will always be.


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HI-Res Images

© 2013 Raymond Goodman

© 2013 Raymond Goodman

© 2013 Raymond Goodman

© 2013 Raymond Goodman

© 2013 Raymond Goodman

Cover Art Memories & Birds


Kevin Calabro
Calabro Music Media