Carry the Fire
(Vagrant Records/ Staple Records)
Acknowledging that his worship album was designed for a very specific crowd, Carry the Fire can be considered Dustin Kensrue’s official second solo album. Even a brief listen to any of the tracks on the release will highlight the fact that this is far from Please Come Home Pt. 2. While his debut solo album was a wonderful collection of folk and Americana styled song writing, Carry the Fire has a much more expansive musical scope. In fact, it has more in common with some of Kensrue’s output with experimental group, Thrice.
The album starts with the piano heavy intro to “Ruby,” which is a catchy tune that has more than a little bit of Memphis soul swagger. Lyrically, it is a great introduction to the overlying concept that weaves throughout the album. Kensrue is very much in love and is happy to share his joy with listeners. Sometimes he is very clear in the focus of his admiration (many songs are love letters to his wife), while others use metaphor to express his love, softening the worship enough that secular listeners can interpret his praise of God to reflect a more human figure if they choose. On “Back to Back,” he creates an anthemic rock song that has a heavy 90s alt influence. The beautiful “There’s Something Dark” is a reflective piece with an almost ominous country feel, using haunting harmonica as a contrast to the booming accompaniment. The lyrics of this song deal with feelings of uncertainty and fear, showing that despite all the love in his heart, there are still real human faults at work too. While it is not as blatant as Brian Fallon, at moments, Kensrue channels Springsteen to great effect. “Death or Glory” is a great rock song that echoes the song writing power of the Boss himself. It shows up again on “In the Darkness,” which is reminiscent of Sam’s Town era Killers, blending Springsteen style rock and echoes of the 80s and New Wave. This is light years from either Thrice or his acoustic solo work and it is a refreshing surprise. One of the songs that has been floating around for some time is the gorgeous love song, “Of Crows and Crowns.” This is destined to be an oft used wedding song, with its restrained vocals and pretty piano accompaniment. While the music is more realized on this release, this track allows Kensrue’s voice to dominate, reminding the listener of the vocal strength he possesses. The album is a comfortable collection of varying tempos and instrumentation. On “What Beautiful Things,” the music take a bouncing pop turn, reminiscent of Chris Carrabba’s work with Twin Forks. Indeed, Carrabba would be an apt comparison, with his keen adaptation and musical exploration, moving between genres while maintaining his distinctive vocal style. The album closes with the title track, a percussion heavy track that provides an able conclusion with swirling synths creating an atmospheric musical background that is far removed from the soulful beginning of the album.
It is important to recognize that Kensrue has a very distinctive voice, which dominates every song on Carry the Fire. It is strong and he uses it to full effect here, wandering from passionate howls to haunting whispers from track to track. Fans who followed from Thrice should be happy to hear his familiar vocals, even without the heavier elements of that group present. While the music is much more realized this time around, designed for full rock shows rather than quiet coffeehouses or Sunday worship sessions, Kensrue’s strong voice remains the centerpiece that the songs build from. It was a long wait for fans of his solo material and Carry the Fire shows definite maturation and experimentation from the guy who recorded the acoustic based Please Come Home. This shares as much with some of Thrice’ later work as it does with anything Kensrue has released solo and should be embraced by fans of either era of his music career. (Dustin Blumhagen)