Back when Napster meant kindergarten quiet time, people downloaded songs from something known as "radio" onto something called "cassette tape." Music freaks passed them through an institution known as the United States Postal Service. One freak in West Virginia sent some other freaks two songs by Kevn Kinney, leader of rock band Drivin' n' Cryin, they of college-radio hits "Fly Me Courageous" and "Build a Fire." These tapeheads obsessed over the two songs, pirated from a 1994 Mountain Stage broadcast. "Down and Out Law," a hilarious portrait of the loser troubadour, could be found on an album of the same name, but the other, "Trail of Seasons," had never been released before or since.
Kinney has finally recorded "Trail of Seasons"; it's the first track on The Flower & the Knife -- and it's a masterpiece of pre-Internet, preironic vérité. As in "Tangled Up in Blue," autobiography is transformed into cascading beauty, the details -- sun on the cobblestones, breakfast at Walgreens, hippies and U-Hauls -- stream Proustlike from an older-than-the-years voice and memory. Kinney makes no effort to smooth his jigsawed edges, couldn't care less about synching his guitar to click tracks -- the sound is as rickety and warm as a basement reel-to-reel -- and finds that rare, wise place where the saddest moments become the funniest, where a guitar and a voice and a good song speak of what's real, of what will last. Get to the Duck Room early; Kinney opens for Webb Wilder.