Myles Kennedy is back, roaring into solo career with ‘Year of the Tiger’

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Miles Kennedy | CHRISTIAN BARZ

There comes a time in every frontman’s career where they consider going solo. For Myles Kennedy the idea first germinated in 2009 when he began work on personal material, described as “unconventional” and “less aggressive” than his hard rock resume, though he would eventually shelve it for almost a decade.

MYLES KENNEDY When: 8 p.m. May 25 Where: Rochaus, 96 W. Main St., West Dundee Tickets: $20-$40 Information: ticketfly.com

At that time, Kennedy was one of the busiest people in the biz with his role fronting Alter Bridge (the instrumentalist phoenix rising from the defunct rock band Creed) and accepting an invitation to help guitar god Slash with his own solo project, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, that has resulted in two albums and another one this fall. There was also the brief project in 2009 working with three-quarters of the members of Led Zeppelin—an opportunity that came from meeting Jason Bonham on the set of the 2001 film “Rock Star” in which Kennedy had a cameo—that had many wondering if the singer would soon be replacing Robert Plant. Room to breathe—let alone start a solo career—was barely possible.

Flash forward to today, and with Slash occupied with Guns N’ Roses and Mark Tremonti (lead guitarist of Alter Bridge) focusing on his eponymous side project, Kennedy says, “There was finally a window of opportunity to release something.” Yet, as he listened to the music he had crafted so early on, he decided to trash it all. “I figured it would be better if I just started over.”

Kennedy recalls a very specific turning point in the making of his new album that began in his backyard. “I remember I was doing something outside on my lawn and this melody popped into my head with the lyric, ‘In the year of the tiger I won’t weep and moan / Got no time for cooling heels I’ve got to roam.’ I didn’t know what it meant, but I recorded it real quick and kept coming back to it. I did some research and realized it just so happened to be that the ‘Year of the Tiger’ was in 1974, the year my father passed away, and I really felt like it was the universe telling me it was time to address this.”

Kennedy was just four when his father, Richard, passed away after opting not to seek medical treatment for an illness due to the beliefs of his Christian Scientist faith. It has been something that has haunted the younger Kennedy ever since and, ultimately, he says, leading him to his creative outlet as a songwriter.

Dutifully called “Year Of The Tiger,” Kennedy’s solo debut is the story of coping with the loss. It features 12 songs that veer starkly from his rock prowess, inspired by his love for artists like the late Chris Whitley, k.d. lang, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson, whom Kennedy admits would be his next dream collaboration. On the album, Kennedy dips his toes into twangy alt country (“Turning Stones”), coffeehouse singer-songwriter confessionals (“Nothing But A Name”) and deep south blues rock (“Devil On The Wall”) united by his incredible four-octave tenor range and deep emotional lyrics.

With production help from long-time cohort Michael Elvis Baskette, Kennedy hones in on the evolving sound — including a mini rock opera on “The Great Beyond,” one of his favorites on the record — and creates a storyteller arc that culminates in a hopeful ending on “One Fine Day,” the album’s closer. “The story has a happy ending, that song alludes to that,” says Kennedy.

Myles Kennedy sings as Slash plays guitar at Ribfest in Naperville on Friday night, July 5, 2013.

Myles Kennedy sings as Slash plays guitar at Ribfest in Naperville on Friday night, JULY 5, 2013. | Sun-Times Media/File

on Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media

As he explains it, his mother would eventually take her children to Hartford, Wisconsin, before being set up on a blind date across the country in Spokane, Washington, with a man she would eventually marry. Spokane is a town that Kennedy still calls home and where he has also established his Future Song Foundation with his wife, Selena Kennedy, to help children like him have access to music education. “Music was my salvation as a child. Especially given everything I had gone through, music was so important in helping me define myself and make me happy,” he says. “Any child that wants that opportunity should have it.”

Kennedy is currently on the road — just himself and a guitar — offering acoustic takes on the new material. “It’s been a real challenge for me to go up there [on stage] and keep people entertained for two hours, but I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s allowed me a certain freedom with arrangements.” Kennedy also calls the tour a retrospective of his nearly three-decade career, offering picks from his early band The Mayfield Four as well as his work with Slash and Alter Bridge and throwing in a few covers. By the summer, he hopes to take out a full band to fully explore the sound of “Year Of The Tiger” in a live setting as he makes future plans for how to proceed with his solo venture.

“It’s definitely something I would like to continue. It’s good for my musical soul,” he admits. “I wasn’t sure how folks were going to embrace this and I’m really surprised how well it’s gone, so I’m definitely going to do more of this in the future.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

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