Feb 24, 2018
“Sid Kingsley is a modest man. He doesn’t think of himself as any more than simply a journeyman musician. After a few false starts, he came to the realization that making music was all he ever wanted to do, and while he doesn’t trumpet his skill and ability, it’s obvious at the outset that the man is easily one of the most talented artists making his bow in recent memory. He’s content to write and record his songs. But the profound talent at work here is evident upon hearing the opening title track of Good Way Home — talent that boasts a wellspring of honesty and conviction, fresh and formative with a wisdom and authenticity that’s as old as the ages.
That can clearly be heard in the songs — the driving and dynamic “Lady in the Wall,” the instantly affecting “These Are the Reasons,” the reflective and resonating take on American traditional “Moonshiner,” and the surprisingly sprightly “Rat on a Wheel,” among many. Kingsley clearly has a gift, one that binds melody, a message and a purpose for being. If we were seeking an heir apparent to Townes Van Zandt, Van Morrison and John Prine, Kingsley would be on the short list. Little wonder that a raging version of Prine’s “Sam Stone” and a surprisingly funky take on the timeless traditional classic “Wild Mountain Thyme” are also in his set list.
If all this sounds like the usual hyperbole accorded many newcomers, then all it takes is a listen to the aforementioned Good Way Home to demonstrate otherwise. And Kingsley’s background suggests he’s not prone to exaggerating. Raised in the tiny town (pop. 111) of Branchville, Virginia on the North Carolina border, he spent his younger years immersed in the historical environs of the Old South, in the land of cotton growers, peanut farmers, and indigenous American Indians — and the place that birthed Nat Turner’s slave insurrection in 1831. Kingsley’s father took him to visit those houses where the violence took place when he was a kid.
“One house in particular still has blood stains on the floor,” Kingsley recalled. “There are plenty of ghosts stories still being shared there.”
Kingsley grew up surrounded with music, watching his grandmother play piano and organ, or listening to his father play drums. Kingsley loved it all — classical, jazz, r&b, pop and country — but especially jazz. Drawn to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, he was inspired to pick up saxophone, and by the time he was in fifth grade it had become so much of an obsession, he began begging his parents to buy him one.
“The town I grew up in had very few people and even less children, so I really had no one to hang out with most of my childhood. My friends were the musicians that played on the records in my father’s collection. He would bring me a new jazz record nearly every day. I discovered artists like Joshua Redman and fell in the love with the sound.”
Despite being a soloist in his high school jazz band, he was still shy about his playing: “It was my little secret, something I knew about myself that most others didn’t.” He was a serious jazz snob, and intensely insecure about his own growing talent. Despite incessant practice that left his lips bleeding, he avoided auditions and shied from the spotlight.
After high school, Kingsley decided to join the Coast Guard, following the same military path as many members of his family. Even there, his love for music didn’t fade from view: one commanding officer insisted he share his talents with his fellow recruits. “I wasn’t in a position to say no, being that I was in boot camp and all,” he says.
Shortly thereafter, the same CO arranged for him to represent his unit performing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the nearby Cape May Jazz Festival. When jazz great Jimmy Heath heard him playing backstage, he was stunned, and quickly assured him that he had what it took to succeed as a musician.
College came next, but after starting in one school and transferring to another, he came to realize that an educational experience wasn’t for him. “I enrolled in a music program, but decided I didn’t want to do it,” he admits. “Music school took away all the joy from music. There were just too many rules.”
He meandered for a few years, during which time his music threatened to become just a hobby. He abandoned the saxophone, and began dabbling in piano. He indulged a sudden desire to hitchhike for months to the west coast. Finally, he moved to Richmond, Virginia and found the stability he was seeking. He began playing in other people’s bands, and realized he had the resolve he lacked for so long. The result is Good Way Home, an album that brings those hard-learned experiences full circle.
“To record this album meant finally getting all of my ideas and songs in a concrete form, and it was amazing having someone believe in what I was singing to want to even lay it down,” Kingsley says. “I hope the people that hear the record can feel the love and care that went into its making. Music for me is a really personal thing, and finally having the courage to share it with other people really means a lot.”
LEE ZIMMERMAN (POPMATTERS, NO DEPRESSION)