The most striking thing about this record, besides the obvious quality, is its honesty. Kate is entirely exposed yet unflinching despite having nothing to hide behind but her own voice. Throughout the recording there is an underlying sense of a journey. Sometimes the path winds gently and organically to a surprising destination, and at other points, although the end point is clear, the way is filled with unexpected twists and turns. This improvised quality is just one of the things that makes Songbirds so appealing and more captivating with every listen.
The reliance on voice alone is far from limiting and Kate demonstrates skill and dexterity, accessing a rich palette of sounds and tones. The vocals dance between bright layered sounds suggestive of African spirituals to a softer, soulful quality carried by sonorous chords. The influence of Bobby McFerrin is clear, and far from relying on simple choral textures, Kate plays with a variety of different rhythms and progressions in building the accompaniment for each song, becoming the instrument that supports the lyrical material.
Musical Boxes opens with a deep and resonant accompaniment so well crafted that in seconds you could easily forget that this sonority is the effect of voices alone. Between the lyrical exposition, contrasting layers bubble to the surface, weaving in and out of each other to create a satisfying prelude to the next verse. This effect is similar in These Things They WIll Come that rises effortlessly from the silence with sighing intervals that compliment this bluesy and lamenting song before it slips gently away once more, all the time feeling more vast than it seems possible for a single voice achieve.
For pure atmosphere, these songs are complemented beautifully by Song for a Hill. The track feels heavy and turbulent with its discordant introduction and dreamy waltz-like quality. It could be a ballet score with a narrative hidden in the layers and the distant sirens heighten the feeling of seeing a landscape and the storm from some lofty viewpoint.
However, the album is far more than just dramatic textures and vocal arrangements. The songs are honest confessions and within the collection there are a number of these delivered with a much more gentle treatment. Kate's solo voice is front and centre on both Love Can Be Easy and Walk Away. The first opens with a soft warmth like a summer dawn. It has a quality of lazy contentment and delicate layers wash over each other like lapping waves in the surf. Walk Away is almost hymn-like and there is a subtle crescendo in the strength of the lead vocal as it walks towards the climax of the song. The phrases are shaped with care and Kate's lovely vibrato is just the right decoration.
It might be easy to assume that the album is brooding and introspective from the cross section touched on above, but there are too many moments of pure elation to label it as such. I challenge anyone to listen to Happy without grinning from ear to ear. The joy of this track, with its soulful spontaneity, is infectious. The recording is gilded with similar moments in which Kate shares reassurance and sense that happiness is closer and easier to achieve than we often let ourselves think
Although aspects of the album are light enough to dip into to satisfy a certain mood, there is a great depth here that offers itself to a much more intense exploration.
|Kurt Deemer Band: Gaslight||Johanna Lillvik: Johanna Lillvik|
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