Monday, May 3, 2010

Music Review: Sonya Kitchell - This Storm

Put in the CD This Storm and out comes a big fresh breath of air, the strong, unique voice of teenager Sonya Kitchell. She is a singer/songwriter in the vein of Ani Difranco, Tracy Chapman, and PJ Harvey who plays guitar and croons like we all tried to do in our basement in high school, but the difference is she’s actually tremendously talented.

This is Kitchell’s second album. She got a lot of press after her debut Words Come Back to Me because she was only 15 when she recorded it and she showed a ton of promise to be a powerful artist who sticks around for a while.

On This Storm, released on Velour Recordings, she continues to grow and shows even more signs of one day becoming an immortal songwriter, but she’s not quite there yet. This Storm is a gentle record, with some dark moments, it flows nicely and is touching and catchy. Kitchell’s voice is the stuff on the wind after a summer rainstorm. It is uncommonly gorgeous, a mix of R&B, jazz, and coffeehouse girl punk. Her voice is calm and deliberate, but earnest and sometimes surprisingly powerful. Kitchell ranges from a soft grumble to a strained chirp, sounding a bit indecisive and uneven at some points, but always coming back to a soft, warm, middle area. The songs are each worth multiple listens, are each full of flavor and occasionally are brilliant, but Kitchell does take a few bad steps.

The 12-tracks on This Storm all have several degrees of loveliness. Kitchell’s voice; the soft, jazzy drumming or blues bass behind her; and the chipper guitars work to massage the eardrums, with some pretty good results.

The CD opens up with one of the more up-tempo songs on the disc, “For Every Drop.” Her voice dances high and low as she sings “Oh my God, just confess, you want it, you want it, you’re just like the rest. Oh dear child, don’t deny, you need it, need it for your alibi.” “Soldier’s Lament,” and “Who Knows After All,” are the other tracks on the CD with similar tempo, and they are some of the best songs on This Storm.
After the strong opening track, Kitchell falters a bit with probably the worst track on the disc, “Borderline.” It feels too much like a hodgepodge, with smokey blues verses crossed with a cheerleader sing-a-long chorus. Track 3, “Running,” again misses the mark, with Kitchell trying to deal out a soulful life story, but not fully committing to it and missing the true bluesy power her voice and the clean, slightly bluegrassy guitar, hint at.

The track the does successfully combine soul and rock and bluesy swagger beautifully is “Fire.” Definitely the strongest song on the CD, "Fire" is full-bellied and intense, Kitchell belts out the story of a rocky relationship and the guitars wail and wiggle and invite the listener close to warm their hands. I would definitely pump my fist, close my eyes and sing “Fire” at the top of my lungs at a Kitchell concert.

The other songs on This Storm are mostly slower ballads and Kitchell seems less comfortable on them. They are delivered uniquely and have some memorable moments, but overall they miss the mark.

Kitchell has an engaging voice and her lyrics are unembarrassed and direct. Her words and voice are a great tandem, working together to take listeners to the exact spot of the brain or heart that she wants. The breeze blowing out of the CD will pick a listener up for a ride in the high mountains and the low, sometimes foggy, valleys.

None of the songs on this CD are bad, and This Storm can easily be comfortable background music, played again and again, but it does have some faults. She definitely is a talent though, and one to watch. In fact, she’s on tour right now. Visit her website and find the dates, and go watch her.

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