There’s a plain-spoken quality in the music of Aiken, S.C. bandleader Kenny George that speaks to the soul of what Americana is supposed to be. It’s as if George has spent the last 10 years stripping away the artifice and excess that sometimes attends the music, elements like the self-conscious neo-traditionalism or the jam-band-style profligacy, and distilled something so ineffably true as to defy any further definition or ornament.
George founded the band back in 2007, along with drummer Bucky Brown, as a way to make extra cash playing covers on the college circuit. George tells that from the beginning, the band liked to work in the odd original song between renditions of “Whipping Post” and “Brown-Eyed Girl.”
Steeped in the music of classic folk and rock singer-songwriters like John Prine and Jackson Browne, and, later, classic Americana like Blue Mother Tupelo and Whiskeytown, George began to diversify the band’s mix of cover songs, incorporating more alt-country, less classic Rawk. The band also began dropping in an ever greater selection of George’s own original songs.
“We knew we didn’t want to be the band still playing ‘Wagon Wheel’ every night after 20 years,” George laughs. “But it was a pretty natural process; we always played what we wanted to play.”
So it was with no small deliberation that the band finally recorded their 2014 debut “Gunshy,” seven songs of solid bedrock Americana, tunes that would do even one of George’s own alt-country heroes proud.
Looking back, George says he has mixed feelings about the record, though that’s probably due in no small part to his having a new record — this year’s “Borrowed Trouble” — absorbing the whole of his affections.
“I was really proud of ‘Gunshy’ at the time, but I have a hard time listening to it now,” he says. “That record had songs written over years and years. Some of the songs were written before I was even in this band. So maybe it didn’t have the consistency in tone that the new record has.
“I feel like the new record is a better screen shot of where the band is right now. It captures the energy of the band much better. It has more of a rock ‘n’ roll feel, while still keeping the country influence. But there’s more of a rock drive, more electric guitar and more guitar solos.”
If the new record is different, the band’s work ethic has stayed the same. George says the band typically plays upward of 150 shows a year, a rigorous touring schedule that prompted one Columbia scribe to label them the “ubiquitous dive-bar dogs” of the South Carolina music scene.
“About three or four years ago, we made a decision that we were going to get ourselves out there, really hit the road and push our music online,” George says. “It’s gotten to the point over the last couple years where we can go into different markets, and we know we’ll have a crowd. People will sing along and ask us to play favorites, and the songs they’re asking for are ours.”
The Kenny George Band will play Preservation Pub on Friday, Oct. 20 beginning at 8 p.m.