A few weeks back on a Friday night, I randomly decided to take a ride over to Border’s in Meriden to browse the books and the store’s ever-shrinking CD collection.
From the moment I walked in I was struck by the sound of a young woman’s voice. She was set up in the cafe playing solo, accompanying herself on a Yamaha electric piano. As I walked around I kept being drawn to the woman’s accomplished classical-leaning playing and her smooth, proficient and captivating vocals.
Finally I walked to the back of the cafe, sat on the window ledge and listened to the rest of her set. The character of her voice was pleasing and compelling. And her songs were something else.
I was so impressed I bought Kala Farnham’s seven-song EP, Raincloud, and have been listening to it since. In some ways her music is a throwback to the singer/songwriter era of the early 1970s. Her classically-oriented playing reminds one briefly of Joni Mitchell, but the style, composition and melodic structure of her songs are clearly Farnham’s own.
At first the CD didn’t seem to quite capture the impact she made live for me. But after repeated listenings and growing more familiar with her material, the EP started making its mark. It proves a strong showcase for Farnham’s talents.
Lyrics for the songs are posted at her web site. Most are in the relationship, heartache, heartbreak vein — insightful, artistically constructed and cleverly phrased. But they aren’t drawn from the well-worn confessional mode of writing, instead they bring a fresh perspective and style to familar subject matter.
The EP is a solo effort for Farnham, recorded in her home studio and released last year. She uses some overdubs of various keyboards and at times tastefully recorded electronic drums. She also has a number of other songs, as well as ones from the EP, posted on ReverbNation and MySpace.
Farnham, from Pomfret, is indeed classically trained and has been writing since she was 12. Her acoustic leaning music is graced with elements of folk, rock and jazz sensibilities, underpinned by the classical-oriented piano.
From the EP’s seven tracks, all are strong but several stand out, including the opener, Wrong Time, and the closer Eight Months. Wrong Time is built on a running piano pattern flowing underneath a conversational melody that weaves beautifully in and around the musical construction.
Eight Months, which has been recognized as one of the top songs voted on in an alternative song category at the California web site Independent Artist Company, is a breathless, heartstopping meditation with several brilliant melodic turns, poignant and memorable.
Some of the most interesting lyrics reside in Time And Circumstances, another melodic gem ornamented with electric keyboards, including a high phrase from what sounds like the upper register of a vibraharp, and a chorus that tugs gently at the listener with its content and structure. The tune deals with coming to terms with concepts of freedom, or lack of it, and finding a balance in the inevitable compromise we need to make to stay sane in this world.
Others include Beat, one of the most overtly rhythmic tracks, that also has received top notoriety in an electronic category at Ourstage.com. Distortions utilizes a dominant snare-drum sound against a low-register piano pattern and string-oriented keyboards, all set under lyrical imagery of a failure to communicate.
The title track is the EP’s centerpiece ballad that rambles and wanders through a captivating melody framing lyrics of turning personal sadness into rain drops to cleanse the earth. Live Without You showcases one of Farnham’s trademark rhythmic piano patterns that takes hold of a listener and doesn’t let go on a ride through the emotional landscape of a parting of the ways.
Of her songs at ReverbNation and MySpace, one of particular note is Build Me Up, the type of song that one can only attribute to a songwriter building great confidence. The relaxed, infectious groove complements a soaring, sustained vocal in the chorus.
Farnham has been playing in New England for most of the summer and she will appear Saturday and August 15th at Blue Back Square in West Hartford. She will also play at Vanilla Bean Cafe in Pomfret on August 8.
If you see her, she will definitely touch something inside of you with her signature piano playing, heartfelt vocals and fascinating songwriting.