Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Gabriel Kahane turns his broken heart into art on the Trump-defying Book of Travelers

"Book of Travelers"

Release date: 24 August 2018
7.5/10
Gabriel Kahane Bookof Travelers
24 August 2018, 17:15 Written by Joe Goggins
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The very nature of a record’s gestation period means that a delayed effect will always be in play.

That’s certainly the case in 2018, just as it wasn't in the sixties, when The Beatles and The Stones, amongst many others, defied intense attention from fans, the taxman and the authorities to deliver a new long-player practically every year. Now, these things take longer, not least because artists are required to tour extensively behind their latest works just to make them pay. To most, this doesn’t matter, as long as the subject matter is evergreen.

Gabriel Kahane did not fall into that category. Time was always going to be a factor for him, even he didn’t know it. With weeks to go before the 2016 presidential election in his native United States (he hails from Venice Beach, California), he organised himself a road trip, born partly out of a desire to escape the low-level dread of the twenty-four hour news cycle and partly out of a realisation, amongst the bitter divisiveness of the campaign, that he would be better served both as a creative and as a human being to simply get out on the road and talk to people, his fellow Americans. In their humanity, he reasoned, his raison d’être would announce itself, come Trump or Clinton.

We all know what happened next. More to the point, we all remember that image that went around the world, just hours after Trump crossed 270 votes in the electoral college, of Hillary Clinton, her eyes still red and puffy from defeat, on a rural hike near her home in upstate New York. A couple of fellow walkers had bumped into her and her husband. That photograph could well have provided a stirring cover image for Book of Travelers; the whole point of Kahane’s cross-country excursion was to break bread not just with those who’d lend him a sympathetic ear, but also with people who he, as a progressive, would find himself violently opposed to on the political spectrum.

He had planned this near-9000 mile lap around America ahead of time - he was that sure of the version of America that it would offer up as inspiration. In the event, the resulting record’s centrepiece, ‘8980’ (that’s how many miles he travelled) revolves around two lyrical uncertainties; one, his half-request, half-beg, “I just wanna talk to you,” which is how he would strike up conversations with locals as he rode the rails, and two, what sounds like the profound uncertainty of waking up with somebody you don’t know the next morning, having confided in them so deeply the night before: “crooked shoulder, crooked conversation.”

In musical terms, this is not necessarily anything we haven’t heard before from Kahane; like so many of his indie folk contemporaries, his handsome, weathered vocals begin and end with Nick Drake. On top of that, there's little more than Kahane’s own piano playing, which is solid at worst and truly moving at best - ‘October 1 1939’ feels especially improvisational. Ultimately, what’s important here are the words, and it shows in the sparsity of the sonic outlook.

For Kahane, Book of Travelers now comes with a hell of a story, Like it or not, the world he tried to escape - one of greed, avarice and self-interest, across the political spectrum - ended up shooting his worldview to pieces. This album is his response, and whilst it won’t mark out Kahane as a firebrand, it does serve as very poetic reminder of what can happen to the human spirit when best-laid plans go awry. There are moments of great political nuance on Book of Travelers. Let’s hope Kahane keeps on down this path.

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