Words by Bill Clifford

Singer/songwriter Stephen Kellogg isn’t taking anything for granted. At least, that’s the loose theme of Gift Horse, the fifth studio CD from Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, or “SK6ERS.” He choose to name the record with regard to the old, clichéd saying, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ after having toured the U.S. and the world, and feeling grateful to have a job, family and friends and a greater appreciation for America in general.

The first single and opener, “Gravity” gets right to the heart of the matter, and yes, it’s every bit as much about staying grounded as it sounds. The songwriter requests his listeners celebrate life rather than fear the future and raise their voices in harmony, suggesting that the sweet sound of a crowd keeps his feet planted firmly on the ground. If imitation is the stuff of flattery, then he’s laying it on thick for Simon and Garfunkel, as the song’s choral melody rings of their classic nugget “Cecilia.” Much like that tune, “Gravity” is a catchy, fast paced, acoustic rock song with a hummable melody. Also, it’s damn near impossible to listen to SK6ERS “1993” and not sing the verses to John Mellencamp’s 1983 pop single “Authority Song,” as the Sixers multi-voiced chorus on the former is a dead ringer for Mellencamp’s hit. On “1993” however, Kellogg reminisces about falling in love with his first and only, having a daughter and then in the blink of an eye… “That little miss became a woman overnight,” while Mellencamp was rebelling against adulthood.

Otherwise, Gift Horse is all SK6ERS. “Long Days, Fast Years,” is a lovely mid-tempo, acoustic rocker with banjo harmonies and a shimmering guitar chime, while “Song For Lovers” is a soft, emotional lovers lament, sung with male/female counter part vocals. Both are introspective and spiritual songs that examine mortality and beliefs in the afterlife. With spiraling piano lead and robust and steady percussion rhythms, “We Belong Here” is the climatic and inspirational theme song of the set. In the first verse, the protagonist introspectively scrutinizes his career choice: “If I’m being honest I’d have to admit that sometimes it gets to me still/Like I’m back in school and I want them to like me but I know that they never will;” then in the first chorus he preaches resolute belief in himself and his chosen craft: “I belong here, right where I am yeah I know I was meant to/Belong here, right where I am yeah I know I was meant to be here.”

Kellogg has always been a family man and that bond has leaked into his songwriting, whether in his own relationship with his father on earlier records and songs such as “My Old Man” and “Father’s Day,” or songs for his own children, such as “Sweet Sophia.” On Gift Horse, the pop nugget “Watch You Grow” – complete with a catchy, whistled bridge – looks on a child lovingly, and the infectious and upbeat pop rocker “Roots and Wings” – with a sweet vocal chorus of “oh, oh,” both instill core family values and beliefs passed from generation to generation. Married to his high school sweetheart, his one and only love, “My Favorite Place” is a lovely, piano and string laced ode to being in her arms, where worries slip away and home is wherever she is. And “Noelle, Noelle” is a lovely, acoustic lullaby to a child.

Is Gift Horse the final CD from SK6ERS? Will the band mates he’s been touring, writing and recording with since 2003 hang it up and move on to the working world of a 9-5 day job? Have we seen the last of Kellogg as a singer/songwriter, the family man giving up on his hopes and dreams in order to properly support his growing brood? It’s certainly speculative on my own part to make assumptions, but with a title like Gift Horse and unoriginal attempts at radio hits such as “Gravity” and the really unlistenable “1983,” and inspirational songs such as “We Belong here” and dad rock such as “Watch You Grow,” it surely can be inferred that such subjects have crossed his mind. That said, SK6ERS booked on a headline tour in support of Gift Horse through March of 2012, including dates with former label mates O.A.R.

Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers
“Gift Horse”
Vanguard Records
© October 11, 2011



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