The ex-Del Lords/Dictators' guitarist first solo album in 16 years is an impressive return that dials down the volume for a sturdy, heartfelt set of urban rock and soul that is never less than well conceived and often emotionally stirring. While older fans might expect more of the slashing guitars he unleashes on the Stones-styled "Stolen Kisses" and "The Secret Everybody Knows," the other somewhat reserved songs burn with a passion that, like the quieter aspects of the Velvet Underground, shimmer with edgy, inner-city heat. Similar to an East Coast version of Dave Alvin, Kempner doesn't have a great voice but it's good enough, and his flinty talk-sung delivery lasers in on the emotional intensity on ballads such as "Passion Red." Kempner has worked extensively with Dion in the band Little Kings, and the construction of a handful of these songs such as "Here Comes My Love" and "Heartbeat of Time" (a Dion co-write) are clearly influenced by a '60s sensibility but with a sense of danger and respect for the past that recalls the finest work of Willy DeVille. Even the title of "Love out of Time" sounds like something Dion might have sung while swaggering down the Bronx streets of his youth. The bulk of the album was recorded to analog tape at Brooklyn's now defunct Coyote Studios and the sound of New York City — tough, unyielding, rough around the edges yet with a tender inside — informs every song here. Kempner plays all the guitars, occasionally utilizing overdubs, but he and co-producer Michael Caiati keep the proceedings lean and mean with just enough sonic tricks, such as the ghostly backing vocals in the driving "Baby's Room," to bolster the performance. Old Del Lords buddy Frank Funaro helps out on drums and Smithereens bassist Mike Mesaros lends strong rhythm section support. The disc's only cover is "I'll Give You Needles," a harrowing ballad written by Tommy Womack and delivered with requisite intensity in a primarily acoustic version that never slips into melodrama. Like Bruce Springsteen, Kempner understands his influences but isn't shackled to them. He hammers these songs with the iconic echoes of classic rock & roll without sounding clichéd or retro. The result is timeless music, informed by sharp lyrics, tough melodies, tight playing, and a dynamic mix of bravado leavened by a vulnerability that makes this gutsy material personal, passionate, and urgent.
Years Active: '90s, '00s
Scott Kempner, the erstwhile guitarist for the New York-based proto-punk outfit the Dictators and former frontman of the Del Lords (Kempner's primary band for pretty much all of the '80s), continued making music well into the '90s and 2000s as a member of bands like the Little Kings and the Paradise Brothers, and as a solo artist. Kempner's first solo album, Tenement Angels, was released in 1992 on Razor & Tie (which at that point, incidentally, was practically in its infancy, having formed only... Full bio