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Day-job-working, home-owning guys can make good music, too. That's what Hungry Horse frontman Kevin Kadidlo, local 40-something country rocker, aims to prove. Sitting with bottled beer in hand at the St. Paul bar Billy's on Grand, sporting a short blond haircut that suggests conformity with workday expectations, Kadidlo looks the part of a guy who is raising two kids in the suburbs. When the Who's "Who Are You" suddenly thunders out of the stereo that's sitting about six feet from his head, he adjusts his small round glasses and suggests moving to a table that's further away from the blast. But despite his urge to turn down the music, Kadidlo is no father figure--he's more like your hip uncle who subscribes to Rolling Stone and lets you escape dull family reunions to page through back issues.
As three motorcycles outside the bar rev up another loud interruption, Kadidlo talks about the noise Hungry Horse make on their latest CD, Lost (Drought Records). "No one's gonna mistake us for guitar savants," he says, plucking a few fries from our shared basket. "But that's the beauty of the stuff we like--it's not the complicated technical nature that makes it interesting. It's the visceral feel that it evokes." Indeed, like their influences--Neil Young, Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks--Hungry Horse's moody, dirty guitars evoke a world of farmhouse husbands and wives abandoned by their spouses, drunken friends in pickup trucks, outcasts driving off to Nashville to find a change of scenery. The music conjures just the right atmosphere for PBR-cracking with your underdressed friends. And judging by their modest rock tracks and regular-guy wardrobes, this band doesn't want anything more than that.
To say that Hungry Horse have a casual approach to performing would be like noting that Gram Parsons never had a great handle on sobriety. A few months ago at the Turf Club, Kadidlo could be found singing and strumming his guitar with a sleepy affability, while lanky lead guitarist Craig Vanderah, back-up singer Ty Richardson, bassist Mark Rinke, and drummer Kenton Bergen followed without calling too much attention to themselves. If they weren't so tall--all Hungry Horse members are easily 6' 3"--you might not even notice the men behind those twangy guitars. "Our wives and girlfriends tell us that we need more stage presence," Kadidlo jokes. "But I like to err on the side of lowering expectations."
Still, because the band's name echoes that of Neil Young's group Crazy Horse, you get the feeling that their aspirations might be higher than they seem. "Hungry Horse is a real place in Montana," Kadidlo explains after a short kvetch about how many times he's answered this particular question. "I thought it was clever [as a reference to Young], not realizing that no one would get the Montana part." Somehow, it's fitting that they claim the name of this dry rancher town as their own. On Lost, Kadidlo's country themes are soaked in the Western backwater that might sound familiar to a Hungry Horse native--or to someone who is leaving that particular town. On "Going Down to Nashville," Kadidlo sings, "Left my suitcase in the street/Took the first road I saw that was not paved/I think I'll drift out west for a while/Take some time and learn to smile/Texas would make an awful pretty grave."
Meanwhile, "Funny at the Time," the album's highlight, tells a boys-only drinking story that reads like a boozy remembrance of late-adolescent high jinks, tempered with the wry remorse of middle-aged hindsight. Listening to the album's dusty sounds and lyrical wanderlust, you can't help recalling every little dirt-road community you pass by on the way down Highway 90, the wistful feeling you get when you stop for gas and find, just across the street, a tiny whitewashed bar encrusted with cattle skulls.
Maybe Kadidlo, with his advanced college education, his suburban house, and his good day job as a medical technician, has never jumped a train or owned a ranch in Montana. But somehow, from the way his songs search for something larger than the town they were written in, you suspect he's seen that same bar on a road trip out west.
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