John Kilzer - Hide Away (Record Review):

Memphis pillar John Kilzer’s latest effort was released this past fall on Archer Records. The crafty and instantly addictive Hide Away sports a musician list that reads like a future Memphis Music Hall of Fame ballot and encompasses all things the city has represented musically in one fell swoop: blues, soul, gospel, folk, country -- American music.

Kilzer houses a back story the likes of a movie plot. A high school All-American basketball star earned a role player slot on the Memphis State University squad while roping in a master’s degree in English. He moved on to teaching at MSU. Next a major label recording artist in the late '80s/early '90s with two acclaimed studio records, then onward and upward to writing songs for a plethora of so-called “stars”, battling the demon ghost of addiction, studying theology only to earn a Ph.D. in London, to the present day rock and roller/recovery minister/songwriter deluxe. It's all insanely impressive in and of itself, not to mention Kilzer is no slouch when it comes to songwriting.

Hide Away is enigmatic and raw. No emotion is unfelt or left protected, no punch pulled -- Kilzer puts it all on the canvas. There are songs of hope for the political disparaged with an educational twist -- the war tools we build are morphed into tools of human betterment. The album’s opener, “Lay Down," lays out a life lesson we all should strive to:

Lay down your spears and bang them into blades for pruning
Lay down your swords and bang them into plows
Lay down those shadows that are constantly looming
Lay down your idols and your sacred cows

Heavy stuff, and that’s just the first song.

Kilzer enlisted brothers-in-arms Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars fame on lap steel, mandolin, and guitar, Lucero’s master of all instruments keyed Rick Steff, The Hold Steady’s Steve Selvidge on guitar, former Stax super heroes Bobby Manuel and Kirk Whalum, guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart, and the one and only Greg Morrow on the drum throne. “You get these kinds of A-Team players in a room, you have to be ready,” Kilzer says. “There’s got to be a frisson in a song, some feeling that’s got to be like, okay, is it falling? Is it gonna fly? And we ended up with a kind of transcendental momentum. It was like a conversation going on there in the room. Ironically, all the preparation allowed the music to have an element of chance in it.”

Considering the album was recorded at Memphis’ Music+Arts Studios and mostly recorded live, I’d say that conversation took flight. Chance is good especially in music, chiefly in a live setting.

It’s always great to see a man make it, stumble, make it again, and then hit his stride. Hide Away is Kilzer in his stride, songwriting-wise, musically, and perhaps in “real” life as well. It’s a damn fine effort and I’d be hard pressed to say I’m not excited to see what’s next from the prolific cannon that is John Kilzer. He loves Memphis and Memphis loves him, shrouded in all its Sun and Stax.

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