Craig Kinsey
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Craig Kinsey

Houston, Texas, United States | INDIE

Houston, Texas, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Blues


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"The Burdener - Review"

The bacchanalian frenzy of a Sideshow Tramps show will not prepare you for front man Craig Kinsey's solo album, The Burdener. While the Tramps peddle a party that borders on danger and darkness, Kinsey brings the devil to the forefront on a collection of songs that owes much to Bob Dylan.

"The songs that I write for the Tramps are designed to hit you immediately," Kinsey says. "They're designed to move the crowd into an ecstatic feeling.

"I wrote these songs to be the kind of thing that you hear once and think, 'Oh, that's kind of a nice song,' and maybe on the third listen it hits you in a way that you didn't notice before. When I first heard Love and Theft by Bob Dylan, I was like, 'This is crap.' But now I've been playing it over and over, and it hit me deeply. It's the acquired taste thing. Sushi somehow becomes better than Twinkies — not that the Tramps are Twinkies, those are really good songs."

Kinsey, whose hands never stray far from his neatly piled books of Nietzsche, rattles through his list of influences, from old country to old folk, Kentucky music and bluegrass, Bill Monroe, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Tom Waits. Like these masters of American music, Kinsey has made an unpretentious, bald-faced album that puts everything on the table: loneliness, sadness, loss, desire, regret. The burden of life.

"The songs came out of a burden. It's like novel writing. You have to have conflict for the story to begin. That's why there's a chess set on the album cover. Chess is a representation of life, combat and struggle. The person who created the game created it so that it burdens you. If there's no conflict, then it's really boring, and you might as well push pennies around a table."

If this is all starting to sound a little too heavy, it should be noted that The Burdener is not a dirge. The album opens with Deep Vermillion Rug's bawdy brass, drunken rhythm and sing-along lyrics that transport the listener to the Bohemian world that exists in hundreds of crumbling Montrose apartments happily inhabited by Houston's young artists. Big Ol' Tree is a "musical joke" that starts as simple folk song that builds to an epic song about very little. Kinsey calls it "ridiculous," which is to say that it's a lot of fun. Montrose Blvd. Blues is the happiest little tune about Houston you'll ever hear, reflecting Kinsey's deep love of his city.

"It's amazing to be an artist in Houston. It's a secret that I'm guessing won't be a secret for long. The focus is so much on the music and not on personalities."

Then there's the sad stuff that hits you like a ton of bricks. Waiting on a Train and St. Anne's Door are songs that take time, start quietly with plaintive statements and build to sing-alongs; from one lonely man to a chorus of support.

Though the record is a stunner, among the best discs to emerge from the Houston scene this year, Kinsey says he never intended for these songs to be recorded.

"I wrote those songs because they hit me, and I had to write them. The guy who produced the album, Mike Whitebread, convinced me that we had to record these songs and said he would pay for it. So I said, 'All right, if you're going to pay for it.' I pictured him having a little recorder, but I didn't envision this."

That chorus of people around Kinsey encouraging his artistry brings life to the songs on The Burdener. Twenty musicians helped Kinsey record this album in one day — Oct. 22, 2007. Familiar names like Hilary Sloan, Nick Gaitan, Chase Hamblin, Patrick Wheeler and Two Star Symphony show up in the liner notes.

"The feeling in the room was such that people called in sick to work, skipped school. Most of the songs are first takes. I didn't allow any kind of fixing, like if I messed up a word. I wanted to keep that stuff in there."

Now that the album is out, the issue at the forefront is the burden of marketing one's art.

"I have to take some responsibility. Enroll the kid in school, you know. It's on (Whitebread's record label) Trose Music; he's doing a lot to promote it. But the Tramps, all of us are really bad about that kind of thing. There are high school bands who are promoting better than we are. It's something I'm trying to work on because I'm happy with the album, especially when people tell me that they haven't taken it out of their CD player in a week. I know what that feels like with other people's albums and to think that I've given that, you know, it's good."

-- Sara Cress | June 19, 2008


Solo Albums:
The Burdener
2011 Solo Project (TBA)

With Sideshow Tramps:
Medicine Show (2008)
Revelator (2011)

Nick Gaitan and The Umbrella Man



Born a full turn from the white picket fences of America, Craig Kinsey was raised on Southern lore from a family of moon shiners. His teenage years were spent train hopping, walking, and driving across the country in search of “the old days… Guthrie, Kerouac, and John Lee Hooker.” This seeking out the marrow of life led him into the great silence of a monastery and out again into music’s center stage.

Growing up, Kinsey explains, meant living the hobo and prophet’s life that was so captivating in the stories his Grandmother would tell. “I heard it all around kitchen tables, where there was usually money, playing cards, and knives.” This love for ‘the story’ sparked a personal study of old music, poetry, and history. He found a common thread running through works like The Underground by Dostoevsky, the French film Les Enfant Du Paradise, and American classics like The Moviegoer and Freaks. Art and a deep living of life lead Kinsey down another unusual bend.

“I had some things I needed to see there,” Craig says grinning, and leaves it at that when describing his 4 years at the monastery. After receiving dispensation from his abbot he spent four years studying psychology and philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. “I was studying how to entertain crowds, both in novel writing [he has written a novel that is being looked at by an agent] and music performance.” Before all this, however, his mind was already turned toward a life of music and performance.

Craig Kinsey’s new album, The Burdener, carries the punch of his diverse life. It starts off with a circus— a raucous, grinding New Orleans sounding Deep Vermillion Rug. The epic Waiting on a Train and St. Anne’s door weave barroom piano, brass and strings while Montrose Blvd. Blues pays homage to Houston’s gypsy and frontier styled swing. The Burdener is Kinsey’s first solo effort apart from the Sideshow Tramps, a band with a five year history of surviving floods, fires, police raids, and a shipwreck while receiving the title “legendary” and “Best Stage Act” by the Houston Press.

Craig Kinsey now lives in the Montrose area of Houston, Texas.