Transfiguration Highway unfurls like a series of homespun, harmonica-blessed homilies that explore religious themes in a series of sardonic send-ups.
Christianity was a given when I was growing up. My family “believed,” therefore, we did the things that believers do: we went to Mass on the weekends; had feasts at Christmas and Easter; we were baptized and confirmed at the prescribed age and time. Catholic school was also a given (as long as we didn’t have to pay tuition), as it was where we were taught all about what it meant to believe.
So imagine the mind-fuck I experienced when my Catholic-school-sheltered ass got spit out into the world of higher academia at a very liberal Catholic University and I met fellow “believers” who questioned everything that I thought was fundamentally undebatable. I was no choir boy, mind you, but it had never occurred to me that the church, religion, and faith were three very separate missile silos all pointing towards the same heavenly eternity, each filled with very different weaponry. A similar kind of revelation inspired singer-songwriter Kenny Boothby on Transfiguration Highway, the latest album from his Toronto-based band, Little Kid. “In my mind,” Boothby explains, “the Transfiguration Highway is a road that runs from my hometown of Petrolia, through the small southern Ontario towns I grew up in, through to larger and larger Ontario cities, like London, until it reaches me here in Toronto. Along that path, there’s a movement from quiet to loud. From slow to fast. From God to godlessness.”
At first, I wasn’t sure how to take all the Christian imagery and references on Transfiguration Highway. But once I realized opener “I Thought That You’d Been Raptured” is about coming home to discover your spouse is sleeping with someone else, I realized that Boothby and I are sipping from the same chalice. After coming home early from work and finding his wife’s favourite floral dress lying crumpled on the floor, the song’s protagonist jumps to the most logical of conclusions: the Last Judgement has occurred and his wife has been summoned by the Holy Lord while he has been left on earth to question why he wasn’t deemed worthy enough for eternal life. Boothby’s acutely observed narration walks us and his protagonist from the front door to the bedroom — from confusion to clarity — where a crucifix hangs above the bed, Jesus looking down “at the tangle of the flesh there / Where your souls were intermeshing / As if you been brought to heaven.” I can’t decide what’s more heartbreakingly sad: the fact that his partner is cheating on him, or that his first reaction to a trail of discarded clothing (some of which is clearly not his wife’s) is the Second Coming of Christ.
From “I Thought That You’d Been Raptured” on, the rest of Transfiguration Highway unfurls like a series of homespun, harmonica-blessed homilies that explore religious themes in a series of sardonic send-ups. In another reference to the crucifixion, “Thief on the Cross” draws a comparison between Jesus and the thief killed beside him to the relationships between Little Kid and bands they once played with that have gone on to successful careers. Besides Boothby’s lyrical astuteness, the music on Transfiguration Highway is a minor miracle in and of itself, as if Boothby and bandmates Megan Lunn (vocals and banjo),
Paul Vroom (bass, percussion, keys), Liam Cole (drums), and Brodie Germain (guitar and drums) have signed a covenant between a banjo-informed country band and an experimental art-pop project. “Losing,” for example, is all about lost opportunities, but its laid-back, piano-led vibe provides Little Kid room to do what they do best: let their earthy, organic melodies take root in fertile, musically adept ground. The same goes for “What’s In A Name”, another piano-based pleaser that doesn’t need a lot of accoutrements to make its impact.
I’m not one to go in for a lot of religious hocus pocus (anymore) but there’s something divinely mystical about the journey Transfiguration Highway takes listeners on. At the outset, I was skeptical about Boothby’s fanatical obsession with Christian iconography and symbolism, but by the album’s end, Boothby and Little Kid had me converted. I believe in the power of their songs and am happy to join the growing congregation of supporters who have been singing the band’s praises for years. As they say, it’s never too late to be saved.