Above the colossal tennis courts at Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco, past the women exercising their glistening triceps, club Vice President and General Manager Kevin Kane pauses in his office from tennis matches and shaking members’ hands.
“This (job) makes my musical life easier,” he says with a smile.
In that life, he’s a ceaseless songwriter who jams with top session musicians in his band Kevin Kane and the Grifters. It’s a side gig that feeds his need for making music sans the artistic stress of making it big to bring home the bacon.
“If your art becomes commerce – if you’ve crossed the line where you’re using it to make a living – you have a more difficult relationship with your art,” he says. “If you want to get to where you want to be creatively, the only way to do it is (be) ridiculously independent.”
The sentiment rolls out groovy and unaffected, like Dylan’s lyrics. (Kane’s pouf of curls isn’t a far cry either, while his ultra-round specs mimic Lennon’s.) Tunes shoot for a throwback to when music was “easier,” more handcrafted, more accessible, less produced. Think vinyl and live recordings, Jackson Browne and The Band, Tom Petty and Paul Simon, Neil Young with a dash of polish.
“Alive,” Kane says. “It’s just an alive sound.”
He’s never shot for mainstream, to sell a million records – or a billion downloads, as it were – but lo and behold, Kevin Kane and the Grifters are set to release their second album next month. “Road to Recovery” follows less than a year after their first record, “Dangerous World,” and with a richer Grifters’ folk-rock vibe.
“Making a Grifters’ sound was the most important part about it,” Kane says. “‘Dangerous World’ and ‘Road to Recovery’ all share a wonderful musical hook and really quality lyrics regardless of what the topic is.”
Kudos for the albums credit Kane for “songs that stick like glue with a voice I can’t get enough of.” Praise came from Emily Saliers, the blonde half of the singer-songwriter duo Indigo Girls, who also happens to be Kane’s cousin. (Back in the day, Kane bought Saliers her first guitar.)
“It’s crafting long-lasting, sturdy songs with lyrics that don’t go away,” Kane says.
Lyrics get political (“Get America Working”), social (“Dangerous World”) and romantic (“My World in You”), gleaned from the consciousness of Kane and Yale college buddy Eric Goodman. It’s a relationship revival from their college days when the duo played local haunts like Toad’s Place and took their rock opera (back in the wake of “Tommy”) to the university’s theater.
Their ensemble has grown since then, with Kevin Kane and the Grifters featuring some of the finest studio musicians in the area – Clifford Carter, keyboard and music direction, who has played and produced with artists ranging from the Four Tops to James Taylor; Joe Bonadio, percussion, who recently worked on Sting’s latest album in London; Jack Daly, bass, when he’s not performing with Lenny Kravitz; and Kat Raio, backing vocals.
At the helm with singer-songwriter Kane is Grammy-nominated music engineer and producer Hal Winer of BiCoastal Music, the Ossining-based music production company that’s gearing up for an LA expansion. Kane linked with Winer at a charity event with Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, held at Saw Mill Club, and the duo have been collaborating on what’s now Kevin Kane and the Grifters ever since.
“When we get together we get a chance to make what we want to make, to make ourselves happy and make ourselves proud,” says Kane. “Now we’re starting to play live.”
In lieu of shooting for widespread airplay – they are ridiculously independent, after all – the band opts to hit the live circuit at spots like the Towne Crier Café in Pawling and the Winery at St. George in Mohegan Lake. Kane says he plans to synchronize schedules with the Grifters for about a dozen live gigs in the coming months.
“If you’re ridiculously independent,” he says, “you get to push what your view of the world is, and ours is that live people ought to be playing these.”
Put your ears on Kevin Kane and the Grifters’ tracks via Amazon, iTunes or at kevinkaneandthegrifters.com. Better yet, listen on BiCoastal Music’s independent (naturally) online shop, bcmtunes.com, where higher fidelity playback pumps superior Grifters’ sound.