REVIEW: Kevin Devine – ‘Instigator’

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Kevin Devine – Instigator
Review by Zoe Marquedant

Kevin Devine is a master lyricist known not only for his command of words but also his fearlessness. The Brooklyn native has never shied away from the more controversial topics that many artists avoid. Throughout his career, Devine, in songs like “Another Bag of Bones” and “Awake in the Dirt,” has touched on everything from modern warfare and post-9/11 New York to Agent Orange and Vietnam.

“Freddie Gray Blues” off of his new record Instigator is an excellent example of commitment to do just that. Devine originally posted the song on social media in early 2015, and by including it in his new release, Devine really set the tone of the album. With lines like “When I’m talking these killer cop blues / I’m kinda talking my family to you / See, my dad was a cop” and “I can’t know what it’s like / To be afraid all my life / Looking over my shoulder / Behind each officer, a coroner,” Devine draws an exact picture of both subject and artist. He comments and critiques on the current state of affairs while simultaneously checking his own place and privilege. In a similar sense, “No History,” succinctly captures 2001 and 2016 New York in lines like “Fifteen years later and we’re still in the future / The blood and money didn’t fix anything / We’ve grown accustomed to the depths of the danger.” In these songs and throughout Instigator, Devine proves that he has come a long way from the simpler sentiments of “Protest Singer” off of his first solo album, Circle Gets the Square.

Although Devine doesn’t always write about the politically charged, he’s equally capable of penning personal, sweet, drifting melodies about love, loss and local bars. In “Daydrunk,” Devine is retrospective and introspective on being daydrunk, 25 and terrified. He taps into the insecurity of the days when one is “tired of being me.”

The album ends with an even more intimate look into Devine’s life and his choice of album artwork. “I Was Alive Back Then” is a slow strumming masterpiece reminiscent of “You’ll Only End Up Joining Them” off of Put Your Ghosts to Rest, Devine’s record from his brief stint on Capitol Records that just turned ten. It’s characteristic, quintessential and will give you chills.

Whether you’re a Bernie bro and picked up Devine’s work after his rally or less politically inclined and just looking for a good listen, Instigator has something for both audiences and is definitely worth a listen.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Recommended Tracks: “”I Was Alive Back Then” and “No Future”

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