The Non-Commissioned Officers
Based out of Jackson, Tennessee (a small town in between Memphis and Nashville), The Kernal is a singer-songwriter who, as he calls it, plays “Imaginary Country Music.” Listening to his debut album, Farewellhello (which comes to you hand-delivered by your postman as a digital download code packaged inside a beer bottle), this is an apt description. Farewellhello has a wonderfully worn-in feel to it; like it was custom built for long drives.
With its Johnny Cash-style rhythm section, the playfully plucky opener “Where We’re Standing” is a great introduction to the record, welcoming the listener in with its beautiful simplicity. But don’t let that simplicity fool you, there’s a confidence here that allows room for each song to breathe, giving way to subtle surprises in each song and at time a real sense of humor. While rooted in the nostalgia of yesterday’s country sound, it also feels incredibly modern. This complexity builds an intriguing tension within each song, which never feels forced. Each subtle movement feels natural, progressing the sound of the album from track to track.
Moody and stark, “Homicide” is a slow build with a haunting melody stretched over a bouncy rhythm giving the song a steady undercurrent, ultimately speaking to the deadly nature of communication: “I know that you know / there’s a homicide / every time you speak to me.” “Push Your Button” clicks along like a ringing bell and lyrically shows that The Kernal can weave a narrative through his songs like a Southern-fried Springsteen. The quiet “Lay a New Rag Upon My Head” follows each aching howl with an echo, like you can hear the room it was recorded in. But its on “Good-Bye Flowers” and “Mind Control” that The Kernal seems to be having the most fun. Darkly comical and elevating, even if you’re not one for the dancehall, these tracks will certainly get your foot tapping. The final track “Bull-Dozin’ Dream” reminds the listener that “rambling’s never free.” It’s the perfect send-off for a record that plays out like road music to somewhere and nowhere all at once. Wherever you decide to ramble, Farewellhello would make a good companion.