On his own, the Lafayette singer/songwriter starts the process of establishing who his is on "Day's Not Done."
[Updated] Lafayette’s Mercy Brothers were a joyride through the Americana gospel songbook, playing the semi-sacred songs of Hank Williams, and singer Kevin Sekhani belted out the songs with equal parts sideshow huckster and reformed sinner. The band played with the passion of someone whose spirits were fortified with spirits, and in retrospect, it’s hard to imagine how far such a concept could have lasted long. Unfortunately, it broke up before it had a chance to run its course, or maybe breaking up was a sign that already it had.
Sekhani recently released his new solo album, Day Ain’t Done, and he’ll play The Circle Bar Saturday night. Sekhani remains a compelling singer, but without a concept as clear as The Mercy Brothers’, his album is a little conventional. It’s not quite Americana 101, but he and his Austin-based band cover familiar lyrical and musical territory, albeit with good-natured energy.
The title track is a rowdy two-step written from a laborer’s perspective. “When those fields of sugar start to burn / good lord you know that a working day ain’t done,” he sings. He doesn’t exactly embody the worker—his vocal’s too spry, too enthusiastic—but he clearly sympathizes and and identifies with him, just as he does on “Oilfield Tan.” Sekhani doesn’t quite catch the tension that Steve Earle did in “Gulf of Mexico,” which dramatized how reliant Louisianans are on the oil companies for work, even after the BP oil spill, but that’s not Sekhani’s self-appointed task. His song is more concerned with the circular nature of the oilfield life—work, get paid, go to town, spend your pay, catch a chopper back to the rig, and repeat, just like your daddy did. It’s not a cause for celebration, but the energetic vocals that made The Mercy Brothers compelling make both of these songs sound oddly like reasons to cheer.
Sekhani doesn’t belt everything out. The nostalgic “Sumner Street” dials down a little, and it’s perhaps the most pop song on the album. I wish his nostalgia was more specific or paid off better, but it’s not another song about driving to the quarry in daddy’s pickup to swim and learn about love—the current Nashville template. And, he sounds more invested in the stable, reassuring nature of memory than reliving those days.
The song I’ll return to most is “Jimmy,” a western swing track that, instead of existing in the vague, timeless place where many of these songs live, is firmly located in a post-Dylan world where a “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-like lyrical cascade can happen. Sekhani doesn’t go straight to Dylan, which would corny. Instead, he starts from a motivated place—“Jimmy started talking about the one that got away / that got me thinking about my one last great escape,” Sekhani sings. “I’m tripping / my 43rd breakdown,” and from there each line follows its own country psychedelic logic.
I’m usually suspicious of impressionistic lyrics, which seem to dodge the challenge of nailing down a thought, but Sekhani shows time and again on Day Ain’t Done that he can do it. He also crafts good songs—certainly songs that would be fun and easily grasped live. His challenge now is the challenge so many Americana artists face—how to be distinctive. Situating himself in a world we recognize is a good first step.
Updated 2:50 p.m.
The Circle Bar show takes place Saturday, not Friday as initially reported. The text has been changed to reflect this correction.