Although best known as the keyboardist of Barenaked Ladies, Kevin Hearn is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who has recorded several albums outside of the BNL fold. Although many of these releases were recorded along with his band Thin Buckle, the just-released Cloud Maintenance is the second full-length to be released under his name alone. It’s a whimsical affair that falls in line with the rest of his solo work.
For those who have never heard Hearn’s solo work (or haven’t paid attention to his songwriting or vocal contributions to the last 3 or 4 BNL albums,) he tends to specialize in straightforward pop/rock with dashes of electronic music–after all, he is, primarily, a keyboardist. His lyrics tend to have an innocent quality to them, while also being a bit on the esoteric side. He has a halting vocal delivery that sounds similar (but softer) than his BNL bandmate Ed Robertson. This brief (34 minute) set is a fairly solid affair that contains a handful of standout moment.
I wound up having to buy Cloud Maintenance digitally, so I can’t really tell whether the album is a one-man affair or not, but he is joined on several songs by male and female vocalists who add a soulful dimension to Hearn’s music. It’s a bit incongruous when you listen for the first couple of times, but on songs like “Don’t Shuffle Me Back,” it actually kinda works.
Those of you who think of BNL as a joke band won’t find much to support your opinion here. While Hearn’s music definitely has a whimsical quality to it, there’s nothing out and out humorous about it. There are definitely a few lines worthy of a giggle (who else would rhyme “long gone” with “long johns”?) and the closing track, “Monsters Anonymous,” is delightfully goofy. For someone to imagine an “Alcoholics Anonymous” scenario, only involving monsters, takes a pretty fertile imagination.
Cloud Maintenance isn’t an album that’s going to floor you. It’s way too subtle and unassuming to do so. However, it is a solidly-written album performed with a great sense of craftsmanship. If you enjoyed BNL’s last album, All In Good Time, you’ll more than likely get a kick out of Hearn’s solo exploits as well.
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