For its first studio release since 1997’s self-titled collection, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ presents a song-cycle centered around the imaginary Great American Bubble Factory, a brutally industrial setting for singer/songwriter Kevin Kinney’s intriguing songs. The pieces form a raw rock opera, alternately celebrating and mourning the American Dream as Kinney craftily blurs the Milwaukee mindset of his family with liberal leanings from the artistic side of his adopted home in the South.
Continuing the everyman principles the band has preached since their 1986 creation, the album is prepared to alternately rock and inform. Taken at face value, the bristling folk/rock anthems are guitar-driven rushes of raw power from the Stooges and Ramones school of rock. The lyrics illustrate the pathos and simple joys of his blue-collar optimist character, balancing his reactions to the bleak mechanizations of Detroit and the pleasures of Georgia. Combing the sonic bombast of 1991’s Fly Me Courageous with the mid 90’s warmth of Wrapped in Sky, the album finds its groove neatly between the “drivin” and “cryin,” with tasty production by James Barber and Anton Fier. “Midwestern Blues”, long a staple of Kinney’s solo shows, finally appears on record. “I Stand Tall,” an inspired Dictators cover, neatly divides the program in two with a fuzzy blast of the narrator’s unflagging trust, even in the midst of the harsh realities of vignettes like “Preapproved, Predenied.” Though now a New York resident, Kinney’s ties to the South remain a solid and his original idea of the band remains the same. He’s once again joined by co-founder Tim Nielsen (bass), guitarist Mac Carter and longtime scenester Dave V. Johnson (drums), an outfit seasoned by years on the road, playing everything from pizza joints to big halls and every hopeful Bubble Factory in between. – Lee Valentine Smith