There’s a new Kinky Friedman in town
Kinky Friedman, the legendary “Texas Jewboy” country singer and raconteur, has recorded his first studio album in 32 years.
“It was a long time between dreams,” Friedman said. “My friend Brian Molnar badgered me into making this album. He produced it on the ranch in Texas. It has very few moving parts — it’s stripped down to the soul.”
Titled “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met,” the album is a deeply soulful and enchantingly melancholy departure from the singer-songwriter-comedian’s humorous and satirical works, such as “Ride ’Em Jewboy” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.” The album includes three original tracks and nine reimaginings of some of Friedman’s favorite songs by artists such as Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Will Hoover, Warren Zevon, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, among others.
“I have a personal connection with every song,” Friedman said. “ ‘Pickin’ Time’ by Johnny Cash was my father’s favorite song. I was friends with Warren Zevon and am friends with Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. My songs aren’t covers. In order to do a cover, you need to have a voice in the mainstream that’s recognizable, which I don’t. You need to be a Louis Armstrong, Neil Young or Joni Mitchell. In my case, it’s more of an interpretation. These songs are halfway between the way I do it and the way they do it. Sometimes, it’s harder to deliver someone else’s song than it is your own.”
The fourth track on the album, “My S—’s F—ed Up” by the late Zevon, particularly resonated with Friedman.
“It’s a very apt description not just of one man dying of cancer, but also the plight of America and the world. People laugh at the beginning of the song, and then they kind of ‘get’ it.”
Although each song may seem idiosyncratic, a unified emotion ties together the album.
“I think all of these songs are romantic,” Friedman said. “That might be a kind word for it, but what it really means is tragic. True love is a hostage situation. Romeo and Juliet are the best example: If they lived happily ever after, we wouldn’t even know their names. … As a rabbi, David Wolpe, once said, ‘The only whole heart is a broken one.’ You have to have a broken heart to like a record like this. It leaves a lot of room for imagination.”
Friedman’s new songs don’t overtly address his Jewishness, though identity is central to the album’s meaning.
“As a poet said, ‘Jewish eyes are handcuffs.’ You can’t get away. The most important vantage point for an artist is to be outside looking in, and the Jews always are,” he said.
The album’s final song, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” written by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin, has particularly resonated with many listeners, Friedman said.
“It was an early World War II song and might seem very eccentric and obscure today, not the kind of thing the people would naturally turn to. However, it seems to have connected in a haunting way with a lot of people.”
Although the album is steeped in tragedy, Friedman still found levity in his collaboration with longtime friend Nelson, who co-produced the first track, “Bloody Mary Morning.”
“I don’t smoke pot,” Friedman said. “I only smoke with Willie. When recording a song, I got so high that I needed a stepladder to scratch my ass. My timing went right out the window. I thought the song was going on for an hour, but it was really going on for three minutes.”
It was important to Friedman to maintain his own artistic vision when directing the album.
“This album isn’t for millennials,” he said. “It was made for a silent witness. That’s whom I was playing for, not for anybody else. We are navigating a Miley Cyrus world. You have to disregard Nashville, Hollywood, New York and every place in between, and just do it the way you want. You must make a record like this obliquely. You can’t aim to please. You just have to be a wandering Jew.”
Kinky Friedman will perform Dec. 4 at the Ventura Improv Company Theater in Ventura, (for tickets visit venturaimprov.com), and Dec. 5-6 at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica (for tickets, visit mccabes.com).