From the September, 2007 issue
When I'm checking out local performers, I so enjoy seeing their parents or grandparents in the audience. The evening feels somehow more wholesome and meaningful with the older folks tuning in to the next generation's artistic expression.
In Ann Arbor, you can't get a much more family feel than at a Billy King show. Billy, son of Frog Holler organic farmers Ken and Cathy King, came to the local music community's attention almost twenty years ago as a child rockabilly sensation with his brother Kenny. The precocious King Brothers followed in their father's songwriting footsteps, learned to play instruments and sing, and rocked the house beyond what should be expected of preteens.
In the years since, Kenny has gone on to art school, and Billy has continued to play guitar, write songs, and work on the family farm. I've bought lettuce and tomato seedlings from the Kings at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market for years. So I recognized Mom and Dad immediately at a recent Billy King show at Crazy Wisdom Tea Room, radiating pride for their finest produce - their grown son.
Now thirty, Billy has left rockabilly behind for warm, acoustic folk-rock originals. He has produced three solo CDs and performs regularly alone or with his band Billy King & the Idylls. His vocal delivery is simple and straightforward, floating comfortably at higher ranges, and he blends beautifully with Idylls vocalist Kristen Uthus, who sat in on the Crazy Wisdom gig.
Billy's songwriting is easygoing and pleasant, with pretty, slow melodies and comfortable structure. The lyrics generally express universal human feelings about place, relationships, and the desire to be greater than we are. Particularly lovely is "Home Sweet Home," from Billy's 2006 self-produced release Overdue:
| When I'm old and weary |
Returning from afar
The whole world will hear me
When I cry, "Here we are"
Where nothing's unfamiliar
And everything is known
I can't wait until we're home sweet home.
After getting a feel for his compositions, I was unsurprised to hear him reprise some Paul Simon tunes, Al Anderson's "What's a Thousand Miles," and "Copper Kettle," a Bob Dylan favorite. He included a couple of his father's original tunes, lovingly rendered.
Billy looks the part of a healthy farm boy - strong and lean, clean shaven, with a shy smile. He holds his worn guitar like an extension of his arms; you can just imagine him cradling it on the couch or porch anytime his hands are out of the dirt. He also enjoys experimenting with other instruments. He's written some lovely songs on the keyboard, including "That Way" - a witty lament that sounds like something Harry Connick Jr. would perform:
| When we walk down the street, we might hold hands |
But to anyone we meet, we're only friends
Yes only friends and nothing more, that's what you say
Yes we've been over this before and my baby doesn't like me that way.
Billy also plays twelve-string guitar, and he can pull off songs on the banjo, too, though
I'm not sure people should bother with banjo if they're not gonna pick it.
But it hardly seems fair to criticize, when I was so taken with Billy King's earnest effort to make beauty and share it with family, friends, and strangers alike. I wanted to hug him like a mother and tell him to keep at it. But he's already got a mother. And I'm sure that's exactly what she does.
Billy King is at Crazy Wisdom Tea Room on Saturday, September 29.
[Review published September 2007]
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