A couple of weeks ago, Duncan of Sound Scene Express sat down for a chat with Zack Keim (of local garage rock band Nox Boys) in advance of his Record Store Day performance at Juke Records in Bloomfield. This acoustic set helped build anticipation for Keim’s first solo album, First Step, which comes out today, May 5th, on Get Hip Recordings. Keim takes a distinctly more folk/blues approach to songwriting here, as opposed to the grungy, hard-hitting tracks of his collaborative work. This range is impressive, and he proves more than capable of handling it on the compelling, bare-bones second single from First Step, “On the Run Blues.”
In our previous interview, he cited such influences for this record as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, and they prove accurate here. While many blues tracks (such as The Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues”) come fully dressed with a complete band, wailing guitar solos, and extended instrumental breaks, “On the Run Blues” goes in the other direction. This serves it well. The only sounds throughout its less-than-three-minute length are an emotive acoustic guitar and Keim’s passionate, unique vocals, which vaguely recall a grittier Shannon Hoon. Emphasis on the guitar’s low strings with plucked, minor-chord-patterned deep notes that have just the right amount of buzz make for a really cool, moody sound. A standard I-I-IV-I-V-I twelve-bar blues chord progression that comprises each section of verse and chorus is the primary nod to this track’s name. But its sparse instrumentation and Keim’s unconventional strumming and fingerpicking patterns keep things fresh and interesting.
Its lyrics are also name-appropriate. In both the words and their delivery, Keim demonstrates the raw emotional turmoil of loneliness and a life of wandering: “Feelin’ dizzy, lookin’ for a place to go/Feelin’ dizzy, lookin’ for a place to call my home/And I ain’t got nobody, gonna hit the road, and I’m on the run.” It’s honestly difficult to communicate just how authentic and distinct these vocals sound; they’re something you need to hear for yourself. (Which you can do by clicking here.) The stripped-down musical elements of this song emphasize his voice more strongly than the fuller-band sound of Nox Boys. It’s not often you find an artist that can flourish in both environments, but he’s one of them.
This is an intriguing peek into the ten-track-long First Step. Personally, I’m quite excited to hear the rest of the album. In his various musical endeavors around town, Keim has shown staggering talent, promise, and initiative, and this record doesn’t appear to be an exception.
First Step will be available for streaming and download via the Get Hip Recordings Bandcamp starting on May 5th. You can also pick up the album on vinyl at local music stores, such as Juke Records, Attic Records in Millvale, and Cruel Noise in Polish Hill (which is my plan.) Or just order directly from gethip.com. Follow along with Zack on Facebook too.