‘Speed, Sound, Lonely KV’ album review
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
Lo-fi folk artist Kurt Vile has just released a new five-track EP titled Speed, Sound, Lonely KV. Its title is a diminutive of its first song, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”—a cover of a song by the late John Prine. Two of the album’s five songs were written by this dignitary, one of which—“How Lucky,” nostalgizes his raspy voice with a duet of the two.
Fourty percent of the EP’s tunes were John Prine originals. Well, what about the rest? One, titled “Gone Girl” is Vile’s take on “Cowboy” Jack Clement’s 1978 version. Vile does away with the lap steel and trumpet, and instead sticks to his usual fingerpicking ways. He does however revive Clement’s smooth, conjunct voice with a bit of fine-tuning. In the original 1978 version, Clement’s throaty voice dominates; in Vile’s remake, his vocals and instrumentals proportionately share the stage. I find it is difficult for a cover to supersede an original, as is the case here. Vile’s version is great, but I would say it has not outdone the original.
The remaining two tracks, “Dandelions” and “Pearls” are Vile originals. Anyone who has listened to his previous works will probably instantly identify his fingerpicking and hazy, twanged voice. In “Pearls,” Vile showcases his intricate guitar abilities. The track is shared evenly between repetition in lyrics and guitar solos. Such lyrics read “Where you been now, little girl? Did you get your purse all filled with pearls?” Despite him addressing this gal as a little girl, the song’s words soon unveil her to be beyond the age of prepubescence: “Where’d you go out all alone? And why’d you come back looking stoned?” As the tune unfolds, its words uncover itself to be a dialogue between Vile and what seems to be a lover.
Vile’s second original, “Dandelions,” is correspondence to his “three baby girls” which are presumably his two daughters and wife. It is composed of uncomplicated lyrics describing the matured, pappi-rich flower. This tune is more lyric-affluent than “Pearls,” which at first glance sounds like a song dedicated to the lawn weed. In listening further, the frequent integration of “for my three girls” shows the listener that Vile has instead dedicated the track to three important gals in his life. Effortless instrumentals match the piece’s lyrics, making the whole ensemble a light melody to listen to.
What is so special about this album is that the late John Prine—a contemporary folk legend whose life was taken this April by COVID—contributed so greatly to it. The duet “How Lucky” is said to be one of the last songs which Prine recorded before his passing, making it an eerie tune to listen to. In it, Prine’s trademarked sandpapery voice harmonizes with Vile’s fingerpicked arpeggios and what sounds like a tambourine. Prior to this song being recorded, Vile and Prine performed together multiple times. Prine was notably one of Vile’s biggest heroes. In an article about the new album, Rolling Stone reinforces this by mentioning notes which Vile wrote in the liner notes for his album where he describes the experience by saying “[It was] probably the single most special musical moment in my life […] I was floating and flying […] and I couldn’t hear anything he told me.”
Vile also covers Prine’s 1986 neo-folk tune, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”—which, as noted in the lead, is where the name of the EP was derived from. This song has been covered by multiple artists, but I can say that Vile accomplished refining Prine’s original. Vile’s hazed voice is the perfect addition to this melody. The twangy pitch progressions that he incorporates to the song’s cadences elevate the original—he truly makes it his own.
This album is great beyond its cultural significance, and it has five great melismatic tunes—making them great tracks to master for karaoke. Go have a listen!