KIERAN KANE , Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin with Mr. Chill & The Witnesses at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), tonight (Thursday, May 4), 8:30 pm. $20, advance $18 . 416-531-6604. Rating: NNNNN
Everything about Kieran Kane suggests he should be an American hero. He's lived in Nashville for over 25 years, had a slew of hits playing straight-up country during the height of the Garth Brooks new country mania, experienced fallouts with major labels for refusing to bow to their creative whims. And his recent albums equal, if not excel, anything he's done before.
So why is it that he's huge in, of all places, Australia?
"Well, people in Australia obviously have much better taste," jokes a laid-back Kane from his Nashville house, where he's just finished a home-cooked meal with his kids.
"I wish I had a funny or mysterious story for that one, but I think it's mostly for the boring, normal reasons; good business and hard work. Our label there, Shock Records, brought us over in 99, and we just played everywhere we could - clubs, festivals, whatever. The Aussies are very receptive to a wide variety of styles. Most of the population live on the east coast, and word spreads pretty fast.
"Although, now that I think about it, it's probably just the same group of people coming to every show."
Hardly. More likely, they're responding to Kane's knack for musical understatement, as evidenced by his latest work, Lost John Dean (Dead Reckoning), on which he teams up once again with Kevin Welch, backed up by Fats Kaplin.
Picking up where 2004's You Can't Save Everybody left off, Kane and Welch delve even deeper into the rootsy Americana music they've helped shape over the last 20-odd years.
Tales about escaped prisoners and meth addicts make for a darker overall tone, but Kane and Welch do their best to bring these stories full circle, adept-ly illustrating the brighter sides of life. While each is a guitar virtuoso, they all adhere to the "less is more" principle, so spare arrangements take precedence over flash and studio trickery, making it sound like all three are playing in your living room.
"Even though it's a studio album, we wanted it to have a live feel. There is just so much that can be done in a studio - compression, heavy EQ, overdubs and all that - but to me it just takes away from the overall feel. We just sit in a circle and all play at once, so you hear everything, good and bad.
"When you do as many live takes as you can, it adds a sense of immediacy that you just can't get from overdubs and the like. Even though it often means I can't redo a part I didn't like, I think it makes for a better overall product."
Kane is also an accomplished painter, and his artwork appears on his last four albums. Its lovely fluidity and economy parallels his music.
"Really, it's just a good way to avoid having to do photo shoots for the albums," explains the ever-droll Kane. "I've never had any formal training, so maybe it's just my naive approach that you're noticing. I remember being very intimidated by a blank canvas and all the paints, but when I started it just felt right.
"It's one of those rare events that change your life forever, and I love having another creative outlet. I didn't even start painting until 1999, so it's still very new and challenging for me, especially since I couldn't even draw a stick figure before starting."
I figure he must be pulling my leg, but when I call him on it he doesn't miss a beat.
"It's true. You know that game Pictionary? Well, I'd get picked last every time. No one wanted me on their team."
These days, of course, it's a completely different story.