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Jewish Journal

Zen Cowboy

by Michael Aushenker

January 6, 2000 | 7:00 pm

There's a new singing cowboy in town, and his name is Ken Kunin.

"I've been in this crazy industry for about 10 years," says the lead vocalist/songwriter. And he's about to turn up the heat.

His band, davis waits, has been receiving radio airplay , including on local outlets KLOS and KTTC; and a cross-country tour in support of their new album, "the evolution of...," will follow after the New Year.

Comprised of 14 tracks of jangly American pop, "the evolution of..." covers some introspective terra firma -- love and life, with the occasional social commentary -- including "my dear kate," a valentine to his wife of five years, Kathryn Sharp; "transit," which, in Kunin's words, charts "the dilemma of winding up in a different city, where's my values today..."; and "senorita," the plight of an immigrant worker trying to make ends meet with dignity. Three producers helped breathe life into "the evolution of...," including newcomer Jon Griffin and John Philip Shenale, who produced Jane's Addiction's last real album, 1989's "Ritual de la Habitual."

Kunin -- who does all of the band's songwriting and considers it the best part of the musical process -- says that his music draws from his spiritual side.

"My Judaism has been a little more internal, not as community oriented," says Kunin. "But it still plays a definitely important part of my life, my family life."

Originally from Tarzana, Kunin is a former teacher of martial arts, yoga, and tai chi. He is also the brother of Rabbi Gordon Bernard-Kunin, a religious studies director at Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus and founder of the Pico-Robertson-based Makor program. The erstwhile University of Arizona Eastern Studies major now lives in Van Nuys, where he runs his own label, Underhill Recordings, with Sharp.

"I'm pretty lucky in a sense that a lot of people my age, they're still searching for their soulmate," says the 31-year-old musician of his spouse.

Together, the Kunin and Sharp are also producing other artists, including singer/songwriter Leslie King; and an album by davis waits' guitarist/keyboardist, Brazilian jazz artist Angelo Metz.

Kunin, who grew up blasting Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan on his stereo, also has an acoustic solo CD coming out in February. "The Return of Number Six" (a reference to the number on the baseball jersey he wore when he was eight) will reflect the spiritual inroads he has made. One song, "Grace to Fall From," will be his take on spirituality and religion; another tune, "Don't Make It Anything More," mocks the shallowness of celebrity worship.

So what sets davis waits from the contemporaries? According to Kunin, it's passion.

"How many times have you been to a show where you're watching a band and there's no passion... where you say, 'Come on I'm not buying it, it's not real!'"

Passion is a big part of Kunin's life and art. It is what drives him to handle his own producing and distribution. And it is what he tries to infuse in every live appearance.

"So much of our generation is stuck in front of the television," says Kunin. "What affects me most on a high holiday is when the rabbi is telling a story. He's not preaching, he's telling a tale. I like storytelling."

Perhaps we are witnessing "the evolution of..." another rabbi in the Kunin clan.

Join davis waits at the Joint on Jan. 15, 10 p.m. For more information on davis waits and upcoming local appearances, check out the band's official home page at www.daviswaits.com.

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