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Scott Kempner - JPop.com
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Scott Kempner

Scott Kempner

Scott Kempner


Scott Kempner by Denise Sullivan Saving Grace Back when dinosaurs roamed rock stages, New York's the Dictators and Scott Kempner (aka Top Ten) came along with their pre-punk savage beat and contributed to their extinction. In the '80s Kempner wrote the songs and fronted the rootsier Del Lords, the kind of band you could rely on to deliver no BS rock 'n' roll in an age when carefully coiffed bands, from the hair metal variety to Flock of Seagulls, ruled the radio waves and MTV. Read more on Last.fm
Scott Kempner by Denise Sullivan Saving Grace Back when dinosaurs roamed rock stages, New York's the Dictators and Scott Kempner (aka Top Ten) came along with their pre-punk savage beat and contributed to their extinction. In the '80s Kempner wrote the songs and fronted the rootsier Del Lords, the kind of band you could rely on to deliver no BS rock 'n' roll in an age when carefully coiffed bands, from the hair metal variety to Flock of Seagulls, ruled the radio waves and MTV. An American guitar band could barely get arrested back then, but that didn't stop Kempner and his bros from running down the dream in jeans and workboats to the tune of a sweaty American beat. I don't think I was the only one back then who had a hard time distinguishing the Del Lords' urban boogie from Boston's twang-tinged Del Fuegos (when it came to roots-rock I relied on my home state's the Blasters). But when the Del Fuegos lent their image and sound to a beer company, which was just about the uncoolest thing a band could do at the time, sides were drawn and the Del Lords bumped up a few notches on the real deal, roots rock radar. Yes, that was all a frighteningly long time ago and today people of a certain age are more familiar with the Del Fuegos' Dan Zanes than they are with the Del Lords' Scott Kempner: Zanes is a children's music artist with old fans who play his records to their kids while Kempner's profile is significantly lower.

He hasn't made a solo record since the early '90s (and when you think of it, that is also a frighteningly long time ago). But when he does step out, as he did with Little Kings—the band he formed when original Bronx rocker Dion ("The Wanderer", "Runaround Sue") called him up for a little co-creation—he doesn't stray far from his roots. Dion and Kempner wrote "Heartbeat of Time" during those '90s sessions and Dion sat in on the recording of it for Saving Grace. Both "Heartbeat of Time" and the new album's "Love Out of Time" have that tentative, fluttery, and yet steadily rising Brill Building sound, like something Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman would write back in the day (and a little like a certain type of song Bruce Springsteen still writes). The Bruce connection runs deep round these parts: Bruce loves Dion and so does Kempner who also proclaims to be charged up by the Boss and their mutual influences, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

Which leaves Kempner open to further comparisons to East Coast rock types and a specific type of songwriting performer: One who combines sincerity with swagger, as Southside Johnny, Little Steven, and the two Willies: Nile and DeVille, all do. Of course Bruce was the one who made their genre his, by fusing retro song values with Byrds and Beatles-styled guitar and a workingman's point of view. And you can hear Kempner's version of that formula on the tough but restrained "Beyond the Pale" and "Baby's Room", with their guitars that sing out with a vintage jangle. "Stolen Kisses" is like a punky boogie party. I want to say that throughout the album (gulp) J.

Geils Band came to mind even though I know some people will hate me for just conjuring their name (personally, I can't deny their '70s hits). There's one song by an outside writer—"I'll Give You Needles" by Tommy Womack—a popular singer-songwriter that I'm afraid I just don't understand. Kempner takes seriously his American musical heritage and surrounds himself with longtime musical companions as well as session guys of some repute (bassist Bob Babbitt, drummer Ed Greene, and engineer Bob Olhsson). "Passion Red", a song steeped in old world imagery complimented by an edgy arrangement, provides a refreshing chaser to the 10 otherwise straight shots of roots rock, while "Here Come My Love" provides another opportunity for Kempner to showcase his looser side. He plays great guitar on the album, and when he gets Link Wray-ed like he does on these tracks, it made me think a little more of that woulda been good. Seeking redemption through real rock 'n' roll is a pretty old-fashioned and romantic ideal; it's rarely achievable in modern rock song unless your name is Joe Strummer or Bruce Springsteen.

But you can't hold it against a guy like Kempner for trying; most rockers don't even bother attempting it anymore. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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