Common Ground

Singer-songwriter Brent Kirby leans on his able backing band and alt-country influences for his third solo release, Coming Back to Life.

It's mid-February and Brent Kirby is holed up at C-Town Sound, a modest, apartment-size East Side recording studio, tracking vocals for "Jenny Don't Cry," a Lyle Lovett-like ballad he wrote for his niece.

It's a beautifully sweet song and just one example of the wealth of great, unreleased material that Kirby, one of the region's best singer-songwriters, has yet to share.

"I just need to purge; these are tunes that I kind of don't know what to do with," he later explains while taking a break to drink a beer and eat some sushi. "I want to commit to them and slowly work on them. I don't know what direction they're headed in yet, but I'm just putting stuff down."

Kirby is known for his clear, crisp voice reminiscent of folk roots icon John Prine, but his solo act is just one of his many musical outlets. In addition to hosting a monthly singer-songwriter night at Prosperity Social Club and capturing the heart and soul of Gram Parsons' music during a tribute show at Happy Dog the second Thursday of every month, Kirby fronts the rowdy rock act the Jack Fords and finds seasonal work with the Ohio City Singers, an ensemble that performs original Christmas music during the holidays.

The priority at the moment, however, is Coming Back to Life, the self-released solo album Kirby will put out in May (there's a CD release party scheduled for May 14 at Happy Dog). "The record is a progression," Kirby says of the disc, which will include the radio-friendly "Still My Girl" and a twangy number reminiscent of the Eagles called "Spot Where I Stand," which he wrote while backpacking through Yosemite last summer. Thanks to Kirby's talented backing band, the Lost Fortunes, the songs have a natural, easy flow to them.

"We have a guitar player who works together really well with our steel player," Kirby says. "It's nice because everyone listens really well, which you don't get with every band. Creatively, I feel like I'm on the cusp of unleashing something different."

A drummer by trade, Kirby initially became inspired to write songs after hearing Uncle Tupelo's 1990 seminal alt-country classic No Depression. "Then someone gave me a Gram Parsons album, and I never gave it back," he says.

A Wisconsin native, Kirby moved around the Midwest before landing in Cleveland 10 years ago and putting out his local debut, The Mean Days, in 2005.

Because he says he was distracted, Kirby took five years to follow the album with last year's more assured Last Song on the Soundtrack. But now that he's essentially self-employed (Kirby runs a guitar repair business out of the basement of his Willowick home), he's able to devote more time to music. And the newfound dedication reveals itself on Coming Back to Life.

"Musically, I feel really lucky," Kirby says. "I feel like I'm involved in a good crowd, and I would have had to struggle much harder to get that someplace else. There's a real sense of community here, and that's been nice."

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