Kala Farnham sets the tone of her first full-length studio album with its opening track Naked Honest.
A rolling piano figure opens up into her familiar classically-tinged playing that underpins an arresting melody. It’s all propelled by Farnham’s impassioned and proficient voice that carries through to a soaring chorus.
The tune is one Farnham released on a live EP from 2009 but this arrangement is fleshed out with a small but full-sounding ensemble as opposed to a solo outing. The track as well as all of the album’s tracks are treated this way and they all benefit from what is really a new production approach from the Connecticut singer-songwriter. The arrangement even includes some tasty guitar playing leading into the bridge, somewhat of a departure compared with her previous recordings.
The group includes: Duke Levine (guitar/mandola); Daisy Castro (fiddle/cello), Richard Gates (bass), and Marty Wirt (percussion/drums).
Anahata: Wake Up Your Heart is filled with new and older inspiring compositions by Farnham like that opening track. One of the most ambitious Niantic Bay has an almost epic feel to it similar to some of her past songs, but again is fully developed with background vocals, creative percussion and a wonderful sense of dynamics that runs throughout.
Her voice so easily transitions from full-bodied to delicate falsetto with a sparkling top end on this tune and others such as the staccato-driven, pop-oriented title track.
Farnham treads much new ground here in her approach even to her older tunes. Songbird, which first appeared on the Naked Honest Live EP has a contemporary jazz-waltz feel, straight from the ’60s. The jaunty Singin’ Along’s (Sparrow’s Song) dance hall feel in 2/4 further shows off Farnham’s versatility. Complemented by fiddle, the track illustrates a lighter and refreshing side to her compositions.
But one of the most surprising and pleasing tracks is her take on the classic traditional song House Of The Rising Son, the only cover on the album. She shows she’s fully capable of interpreting the blues though her own song styling and presents one of the most impressive recent versions of this well-worn staple that came to the public’s attention back in the early ’60s via Dylan and the powerhouse arrangement of The Animals.
The track also shows off Farnham’s voice perhaps better than any other with her soaring interpretation of the familiar lyrics. Never harsh always heartfelt, smooth and riding on top of the melody Farnham’s vocals throughout the album are in many ways the main attraction, holding the listener fixed by the music and lyrical content.
All her songs are infused with poignant and penetrating word play. The rushing Pencil and Ink weaves a story of love and love lost through the writing of a song. All this adorning a beautifully conceived arrangement with perfectly complementing drums and violin.
The spiritually inflected Anam Caram and Maitri, a song of unconditional friendship and love, speak to the center of the album’s focus while bringing the work to its satisfying conclusion. Both are arranged in 3/4 and carry an enlightened perspective through Farnham’s singular talents as singer and piano player.
Other surprises and delights within range from the infectious chorus of By Your Side to Mon Cher and La Coupe’s French-English lyrical content to the powerful and impetuous Ruthless, again featuring guitar.
In all, a complete and accomplished first full-album for Farnham that shows so many more sides to her talents than previous live and EP collections. She has the songs, she has the voice and she has a perfectly conceived piano approach that helps meld all the elements of her talents together into style and substance truly her own.
Kala Farnham’s web site: www.kalafarnham.com
Anahata: Wake Up Your Heart at CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kalafarnham3
Here’s my Top 10 for the past year along with a few bonus selections and various related categories:
1. The Union, Elton John & Leon Russell: A collaboration made in heaven and one wonders why it took so long for these two to get together. The record brings out their similarities, differences and a wonderful melding of their talents with some of their best songwriting in years. A truly inspirational collection.
2. Band Of Joy, Robert Plant: Another entry on the road of Americana from the transplanted Led Zeppelin lead man. Almost every bit as good as The Union with interesting and well-executed covers as only Plant has been able to deliver in recent years.
3. I’m New Here, Gil Scott-Heron: 28 minutes of bliss from the commander of narrative R&B. Scott-Heron is still here and as relevant as ever.
4. San Patricio, The Chieftains with Ry Cooder: A mythical adventure, cloaked in reality, that brings together Mexican, Celtic and American blues and country into one steaming pot of influences.
5. Tears, Lies & Alibis, Shelby Lynne: Stripped-down Shelby Lynne and she greatly benefits from the sparse arrangements putting the emphasis on her singing and songwriting.
6. Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom: It took a while to warm to this unusual songwriter with the reedy, young girl voice but this triple album is captivating and expressive.
7. The Stanley Clarke Band, Stanley Clarke: A bass hero for the ages re-engages with his jazz-rock roots on new and revisited material with a sympathetic and proficient group of musicians.
8. Chamber Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: One of the most unusual and ultimately satisfying collection of songs from a performer/composer who continually surprises and delivers.
9. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (self-titled): Fourth outing from a group with all the signs of breaking out big-time and it appears they’re finally starting to catch on in a bigger way.
10 Naked Honest, Kala Farnham: Honest, heartfelt, poignant lyricism backed with prodigious keyboard chops and crystal clear vocal styling from this rising solo artist. (continue reading…)
In the first half of the year, I’ve been listening to three CDs quite a bit, all beautifully executed but quite different from one another. They are easily three of the best records from the first six months of 2010 and three you should give a listen.
The Chieftains’ San Patricio gives a featured billing to Ry Cooder, an occasional collaborator with the Irish group who writes, plays, sings, produces and arranges on this unusual yet intriguing mix of Celtic and Mexican music based on a fictionalized version of the story of Irish soldiers fighting with the Mexican army.
San Patricio is somewhat reminiscent of Santiago, another Chieftains’ effort from 1996 on which they blended Celtic sensibilities with Galician music from northwest Spain.
The group showed the direct link between the two musical heritages while including collaborators Cooder, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos, among many others.
The music on San Patricio is joyous, celebratory, heartfelt, forboding and ultimately upbeat and forward moving. The highlights are many, including the opener La Iguana with sensuous vocalist Lila Downs, who also appears on El Relampago; Ronstadt’s tender La Orilla de Un Palmar; the Cooder compositions The Sands Of Mexico and Cancion Mixteca (Intro) along with the song proper by Jose Lopez Alavez; March To Battle (Across The Rio Grande), which features a narration by Liam Neeson; and traditional numbers that feature Los Folkloristas and Los Camperos deValles.
It’s all a rich tapestry of the blending of these two musical styles that share so much in common.
The Irish soldiers, led by Captain John Riley during the war with Mexico (1846-48) were discriminated against and treated brutally by the American troops. So much so they defected to join a people with whom they had much more in common.
Although the thread of story on this record is entirely fictitious, there is no doubt music must have been a big part of the Irish soldiers’ experience as it is imbued so deeply in both cultures. A wonderfully realized example of what we now call World Music but is simply an inspiring work under any title. (continue reading…)
The final music disc in Neil Young’s DVD Archive Box Set deals with the time surrounding the release of Harvest, his most successful album commercially. This is the record that inspired Young’s famous — or perhaps infamous — quote after the record’s success about him deciding to musically stay in the middle of the road or drive into a ditch.
By Young’s account he drove into the ditch and stayed away from the mainstream. That might be a little overstated. He’s had artistic and commercial successes since during his long and buoyant career and some were planted firmly in the mainstream.
But it is arguable if Harvest was really a mainstream record per se. It was if you’re only measure is commercial success. But in any era or in fact any time frame, Harvest is a perfect album at a perfect time, a synthesis of accessible songs combined with artistically uncompromising ones, ranging from acoustic and electric country-rock to hard rocking fare that struck at the right moment of the singer-songwriter era of the early 1970s.
The disc includes songs from Harvest, inexplicably not all of them, and a bit more musically. It also contains the most video content of the entire set — at least in my searching — either hidden on the Timeline or tucked neatly under the main menu of songs in the Video Log. And it’s all very interesting and fascinating. (continue reading…)
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. (continue reading…)
In the early 1970s when I was living in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, WNEW-FM was the premier New York radio station playing what we now call Classic Rock and also ushering in the era of the singer/songwriter. Artists such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne and Elton John graced the airwaves.
A British musician who also belonged in this group stood apart somewhat because his music was singular, based in folk but incorporating elements of rock, pop and ethnic music from Celtic to Greek. That was Cat Stevens.
He produced a memorable string of albums from Tea For The Tillerman to Foreigner and continued to make records for the rest of the decade. Then he disappeared, pledging his life to education and philantropy in the Muslim community, after two life-threatening incidents, the second a near drowning.
I didn’t like seeing him leave and never believed he would come back on to the pop music scene but he’s here as Yusuf Islam and has just released his second album since his return, Roadsinger. The songwriting skill and perspective, the familiar warm, deep voice and the folk music approach wrapped in so many other musical styles are all still there. His music may not be quite as compelling as it was nearly 40 years ago but his journey still is. (continue reading…)