Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Dorian

It is very unusual to get the opportunity to properly live with an album prior to writing a review. If you manage to get an advance copy it often only leaves a few weeks to get the review done and if you get the album on the day of release there is a rush to finish the review in the same week. This does the albums a disservice as great music can take time to reveal itself fully and sometimes it is necessary to leave an album and come back to it some time later in order to fully appreciate everything on offer.

The fact that Kathryn Calder’s debut album has had such an unusually long gap between the American and European release has afforded me that rare opportunity.

Are You My Mother?

Calder joined The New Pornographers for 2005’s Twin Cinema whilst she was still playing with her own band, the now defunct, Immaculate machine. She added keyboards and vocals to the band and had the unenviable task of delivering Neko Case’s vocals at most live outings for the band. Her confident performances in a band that included A.C Newman, Dan Dejar and the aforementioned Case showed that she was a real talent and her vocals have gained more prominence against Case’s on the albums Challengers and Together.

Her solo album has the professionalism and confidence you’d expect from a seasoned performer and Calder’s personality shines through lifting it above the norm and adding real charm to procedings. The album was recorded whilst she was looking after her mother who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. This isn’t something that has an overt influence on the album, although opening track ‘Slip Away’ doesn’t need to be over analysed to be interpreted as a response to the experience. The album does have an underlying sense of melancholy, something that cuts through the sweetness of some of the songs and adds emotional depth to the more downbeat numbers.

Kathryn Calder

The album moves between floaty piano lead ballads and sprightly pop, a mixture that works perfectly and means that the albums ten songs fly past. Once the beautiful ‘Down the River’ moves to the fuzzy pop burst of ‘A Day Long Past Its Prime’ you realise that the album is almost at an end and the urge to skip straight back to the start is almost irresistible.

I’ve posted the videos for ‘Castor and Pollux’ and ‘Arrow’ and these two songs show the ends of the spectrum with the former demonstrating Calder’s keen pop sensibilities and the latter demonstrating her skill with the soft piano lead ballad. Her voice is lovely throughout, delicate and warm, and her lyrics are poetic, charming and sincere.

Elsewhere on the album a few other styles are thrown out. ‘If You Only Knew’ is an acoustic guitar and hand-claps singalong that reminds me of music from the 1970s. I can almost imagine Buckingham and Nicks singing it for Fleetwood mac circa Rumours. The soft folky ‘So Easily’ is scratchy and low key whilst final track ‘All It Is’ moves from soft and wistful to screeching guitar reflecting the interesting musical palette on the album.

It is an album that offers the listener variety, excellent song writing and a pitch perfect vocal performance. For me it was one of the best albums of 2010 and it will be sure to be one of the best albums of 2011 for those who discover it on its European release.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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