The Hippo


Apr 22, 2019








Jen Kearney. Courtesy photo.

Jen Kearney & the Lost Onion

When: Thursday, Nov. 12, 8 p.m. 
Where: Riverwalk Cafe, Depot Square, Nashua

Soul stirrer
Jen Kearney & the Lost Onion play Nashua

By Michael Witthaus

In the movie Begin Again there’s a party scene where James Corden’s character puts on a record and challenges guests to resist dancing (spoiler alert — they can’t). Jen Kearney & the Lost Onion are like that — if you don’t respond to their soulful sound by shaking a tail feather, you’re either dead or way too relaxed. There aren’t many sit-down moments on their latest album, The Age of Blame. 
The Boston band evokes the classic Motown era, earning frequent and glowing comparisons to Stevie Wonder. Buttressed by a strong horn section, traces of  1970s get-down groups like Rufus and Cold Blood are also evident. But for the Boston band’s namesake, it’s not just about dropping funk bombs. There’s a reason they’re named after something with many layers.
From the Beatles to Zeppelin to Nirvana to Prince, many tributaries fed Kearney’s musical outlook.  
“I grew up on a lot of rock … Elliot Smith and Jeff Buckley, especially those two,” Kearney said in  a recent phone interview. “Both are soulful but artful at the same time with lyrics, and that is what I strive to be like as well.”
Thus, the record’s title track is both love song and social commentary, slyly wrapped in a slow-burning Chaka Khan groove. Similarly, the hard-charging “Too Far” could be about a relationship gone bad, though Kearney wrote it in angry response to Missouri Senator Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment during the 2012 campaign. 
“I am glad that there was that confusion because it ... definitely has some personal things I touched upon that I didn’t get too specific about,” she said of the song’s double meaning. “I like to just leave it up to people; that’s the service you provide when you are a songwriter. You’re giving someone something that they can picture hopefully.”
The song’s sentiment was purely visceral. 
“He said that women could shut their bodies down from rape and not get pregnant,” Kearney said. “I couldn’t believe a human being would even say that. Whether you’re male or female, that’s pretty crazy. I had to get the anger out somewhere.” 
Making the record was a group process, with significant input from bass player Aaron Bellamy. “He’s really just got quite an imaginative brain,” Kearney said. “Every player on the record really had their own voice. I try not to micromanage a lot. I just bring songs to rehearsal, usually my little crappy demos, and I just let them have at it because they are such great musicians.”
Initially, the band hired a producer known for his sonic expertise. Not feeling the chemistry,  they pivoted to self-production. After disruption from the outset, it ended up being a more organic process. Having a master sensei didn’t quite work out, and going back to their own devices ended up the better choice.  
“We all had a hand in it,” Kearney said. 
After playing rock informed by soul in her younger years, Kearney flipped the formula when the Lost Onion formed in 2001. When she could afford it, horns were added to the mix. 
“I grew up with Motown and all those beautiful arranged songs with those cool horn or string lines,” she said. “I always felt like there could be more.” 
Age of Blame came out in early 2014, but a family tragedy near the end of the previous year made promoting it difficult. 
“I did what I had to do and finished the record, but I didn’t tour as extensively as I should have,” she said. “I’m hoping in 2016 to get all over the place again.”
An upcoming show at Nashua’s Riverwalk Cafe is Kearney’s first Granite State performance west of Portsmouth in almost a decade. 
“I’m told it’s a music venue, a listening room that happens to have a bar,” she said cafe. “So they are really into the music and musicians. … I always love playing at places like that.”
Though the current disc is new to most ears, Kearney is contemplating work on a follow-up. 
“I’m sort of thrown into moving again, but that always puts you in a new creative space,” she said. “I have purposefully not booked the rest of the year with gigs for that reason, so I will be writing and fooling around with GarageBand, getting some things down on paper.  You can’t really wait for the muse or you’re doomed.”  

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