Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes

I hate the term "hair metal" and yet any longhaired rocker who released a record between 1985 and 1991 regrettably has this label linked to them. Some of the acts merit it, as they were copycat acts with limited talent relying on all style and no substance. Then there are acts like Cinderella, led by Tom Keifer since the band's inception in 1984. While the other bands mimicked and copied Van Halen and Motley Crue, never improving on the original formula, Keifer crafted an amalgamation of the Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, The Faces, Allman Brothers Band and mid-seventies Aerosmith. Even when listening to the high octane force of Cinderella's debut Night Songs the band always sounded like musicians of their own domain rather than treading on the territories of others. As the band progressed with Long Cold Winter in 1988 and Heartbreak Station in 1990, they ventured closer to their influences instead of following trends like their contemporaries. They were always riding the wind of their own influences. Then after one more record in 1994, they were sadly silenced.

The Way Life Goes, Keifer's debut solo record, was written and recorded over the course of a decade. It was not labored upon for months at a time but rather when inspiration came around. This is Keifer's first collection of new material in nineteen-years. Despite this gap, his passion for music has never waned. Cinderella took a hiatus at the end of 1995 that lasted until early 1998. Since then, the band has toured continually and even signed a new record deal with Portrait Records (a division of Sony). While demoing dozens of new songs, the label folded and the band found themselves in the precarious position of not only being out of a deal, but not being able to take the songs with them. The next few years found the band in and out of court as they settled up with Sony and at the end of it, mental exhaustion kicked in and this is when Keifer began writing and recording this solo record in Nashville (where he has lived since the 1990s). He has endured a few setbacks with vocal issues since then but beginning in 2012, he began his first solo tour and finally released the long gestating solo album in 2013. I covered his solo tour and when the record came out, it pierced my heart in so many places, I could not write about it until I felt it was just right. This record is more than product, but a collection of philosophical lyrics about self-identity along with fortitude to endure. An artist sits down and tries to share something profound with an audience. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and attempt to take us along for the journey so that we both can progress our lives. This is the purpose of art and Keifer is more than a has-been, a relic or even a former rock God; he is an artist in full bloom as evidenced by the fourteen songs within.

I still believe in the power of the album. Call me foolish, old school or out of touch, but it still moves me because I believe music's maximum force is when a collection of songs puts forth a navigating journey for the listener. While individual tracks can offer comfort and short-term pleasures, there is something much more uplifting and irrefutable about a story that unfolds taking you down an expressive highway. Tom Keifer's The Way Life Goes is one of these albums. It is a full throttle, emotionally expressive tour de force that strips away any gloss and glamour for a more organic and blues influenced sound. The Way Life Goes is conventional in the best way conceivable. Keifer is not following trends, he is simply creating music he loves. It's not a game changer for rock n' roll but it was never intended as so, but the fourteen whiskey drenched blues and rock numbers is the sound of an artist paining on a vast and limitless canvas.

"Solid Ground" kicks off the record in an infected tale of self-empowerment that echoes a sound akin to the Faces and early seventies Mick Taylor Rolling Stones. Beneath the hot-blooded performance is a tale of survival- something Keifer can speak to from experience. The mantra of "keeping moving" is an imperative one and reflective of why Keifer was always on a different songwriting plane from many of his contemporaries. "Different Light" is a musically ambitious number with some clever chord changes. It is tinged with sadness and despair, but its journey is a contemplative one. "Thick and Thin" reaches for the stars in a far-reaching love song accentuated by a swaying vocal. "Ask Me Yesterday" is a lamenting ballad full of illuminating honesty while "The Flower Song" is one of several aces in a loaded deck. The acoustic strummer is evokes the ephemeral joys of life like a sun rising or a first spring bloom. The song coasts along and feels like lost song that had escaped your memory. You feel like a participant with these songs rather than an observer. When Keifer bellows a screech, it is not for show but an expression of his very being, notably on the lush ballad "You Showed Me", a showcase for a big baby grand piano with a pining tribute to his wife. The songwriting here is remarkably adept. Each song captures a moment in Keifer's life over the previous decade. The songs breathe a sense of manifestation and cognizance.

Many writers have attributed the organic nature of the record to early Aerosmith, when in reality it owes more to the Jimmy Miller era of the Rolling Stones (1968-1973) along with the Faces and Jeff Beck records of the early 1970s. Despite channeling it back a few decades The Way Life Goes sounds refreshing and vitalizing song-after-song; "It's Not Enough", "Ain't That A Bitch and "Cold Day in Hell" are blues rockers with stomp accentuated by a slide guitar and finger-tapping chords that can evoke musical magic. "Fools Paradise", "Babylon" and the title track feature spiky six-string riffs fueled by the spirit of Mick Taylor. Keifer's record is a trip down a rock n' roll highway of life and love. Each of the fourteen tracks burns with hope and heartbreak. The narrator of these songs is not backing down and is guiding us to follow his lead.

I love records where the artist comes to the table and shows us all of their cards. Keifer's journey has been one of triumph, tragedy and philosophical magnificence. I feel close to him even though I do not know him. It feels like the paths and roads I have travelled are similar to his, which makes the experience of this whole record that much more rewarding. The songwriting is remarkably adept. Each song captures a moment in Keifer's life over the previous decade. What I love most about Keifer's record is its ability to transcend genres with soul crushing songs full of purpose. I have always viewed music as more than mere entertainment but an art form that has the capacity to transcend beliefs and prove to be a helping hand during life's struggles. In the two decades since Cinderella's last full album, Still Climbing Keifer has had to endure labels and misperceived conceptions of who he was and is based on a label bestowed upon him. Looking back on the Cinderella's catalog of songs, if you look beneath the piercing guitars and thunder crack drums there is wisdom to the stories he weaved even at a very young age. The arrangements with full band workouts with back-up singers and all is a testament to his talent tinged with Keith Richards popping guitar chords, which accentuate this fervent soul styled revival. . If Rod Stewart or Jeff Beck had made this record, it would be a five-star affair in Rolling Stone, so don't judge a book by its cover enjoy the optimistic splendor of Keifer's life mission. If you cannot see the heart, the soul and musical brilliance on display here, then I truly feel for you. On The Way Life Goes Keifer's infuses despairing darkness, rays of hope and weighty declarations of endurance. Keifer thrillingly balances the gravel dirt road soul of early 70's rock while imbuing it with deeply personal tales that moves with such fierce force that it makes you feel like you have just dropped the needle onto a beacon of hope.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes

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