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Album Review

Mike Keneally: The Thing That Knowledge Can't Eat

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Mike Keneally: The Thing That Knowledge Can't Eat
A new Mike Keneally album is always a thing of humming excitement and intrigue. And pending contradictions eloquently resolved. Forever searching along and within nooks and crannies of the soniverse for fresh sounds and patterns, Keneally surveys the majestic reaches and possibilities of music and grins. A shockingly talented musician, Keneally has the calm energy of someone who can pull off the most complex musical riff (on keyboards and/or guitar, sometimes simultaneously) in an effortless manner, in this way appearing to simplify said melody/line, making it more accessible to the listener purely through the ease with which it is played. And that latter verb is key: In Keneally's sonic cosmogeny the central sun is Play, where problems become fun obstacles and every moment unpeels in raptures of sheer choice. There are, of course, the stern suns and luminous moons of discipline and skill and focus which all musicians comfortable in improvisatory settings require mastery of, but these are merely the gleaming instruments requisite for musical adventurousness and the ability to bounce unexpected ideas off one another into the world of melody and rhythm.

Pretty much the only consistent aspects of The Thing That Knowledge Can't Eat are Keneally's voice and trademark nursery rhyme approach to singing, his signature guitar tone—a kind of civil, considered distortion—and unpredictability (said sing-song vocal deliveries can unexpectedly soar into beautiful melodies and harmonies or more convoluted experiments and said tone can metamorphose at will.) Opener "Logos"—not, unexpectedly, the Greek term—has a gently compelling, classical minimalist backing of piano and bass with vocals exploring various styles and scales, while the lyrics, as in most Keneally songs, are whimsical, even silly. The song is a mildly ironic ode to the phenomenon of, and philosophy behind, corporate logos. We then take a decisive left into what sounds like a mid-Seventies David Bowie riff on "Both sides of the street," offset by mini acoustic interludes leading to exhilaratingly soaring and intertwined guitars—goosebump city.

As with most of his solo works, highlights abound. The solos themselves are things of (mostly) understated wonder. Keneally, when not involved as a guest in G3 guitar tours, shirks the show-off side of being a fabulous guitarist, often preferring a subtle, lingering impression over some flurry of virtuosic activity. Then one finds the beauty of the delightfully titled "Mercury in Second Grade," sprinkled with romantic melancholy, and later the churning assault of "Lana," with its almost sludge metal, rolling momentum and ghostly harmonies, and perhaps the most visceral bursts of soloing on the album. Keneally's chief musical idiom is progressive rock, but his restless creativity means that his solos tend to shapeshift at the drop of a hat, and contain wondrous gems of detail and quirk, the musical equivalent of a master novelist. The gemiest gems are the two instrumental tracks: "Celery" is propulsive from the get-go, Keneally and guest Steve Vai sharing and at one point mingling soloing duties to delightfully odd and innovative effect, while "Ack" settles into a New Orleansian feel, horns initially leading the affair, guest guitarist Peter Tiehuis stepping in with a woozily off-kilter lead followed by the fond surprise of a brief violin solo. Grinning stuff.

Epic closer "The Carousel of Progress" showcases the central pattern of Keneally, his ability to alter the course of a composition, here several times, in a way that is either seamless or conducted according to the composition's unfolding internal logic; the song is a mini album in itself. A keeper for fans of this remarkable multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter, The Thing That Knowledge Can't Eat also serves as a concise introduction to those unfamiliar with his storied oeuvre.

Track Listing

Logos; Both Sides Of The Street; Mercury In Second Grade; Celery; Spigot (Draw The Pirate); Ack; Lana; Big Hit Song; The Carousel Of Progress.

Personnel

Mike Keneally: guitar, electric; Steve Vai: guitar, electric; Erick Slick: drums; Pete Griffin: bass; Bryan Beller: bass, electric.

Album information

Title: The Thing That Knowledge Can't Eat | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Exowax

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