Nearly one year to the day that Kevin Devine released Instigator, his ninth record, the Brooklyn songwriter returns with We Are Who We've Always Been, an acoustic reimagining of Instigator's 11 tracks. We Are Who We've Always Been brings Devine's exceptional lyricism to the forefront, each word confidently reverberating against his gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar.
Both Instigator and We Are Who We've Always Been's highlight, the uncomfortably honest and devastating "Freddie Gray Blues," is as vital and relevant as it was upon its original release one year ago. "And I know not every cop is a racist, murdering cop," Devine softly sings, "but this is bigger than the people I love / the system's broken, not breaking — it's done." These words bear the same weight as they did last October because our world is just as turbulent.
Guest features from the Mynabirds' Laura Burhenn and Nandi Rose Plunkett of Half Waif add an extra layer of depth on two of We Are Who We've Always Been's most fervent tracks. Amidst the slow strings and gentle stroke of piano keys on "No One Says You Have To," Burhenn's echoes serve as comforting reassurance to Devine's struggles ("It gets so lonely inside my mind, but I'm surrounded in love all the time"), while Plunkett's silvery vocals on the album's wistful, stripped-down closer "I Was Alive Back Then" sound like a ghost from Devine's past.
Although putting a new spin on a record that's still fresh and affecting listeners can often turn out bloated and unnecessary, We Are Who We've Always Been's tasteful acoustic renditions reinvigorate Devine's thoughtful work on Instigator and emphasize its urgency. (Procrastinate! Music Traitors)