The Upshot: Canadian singer-songwriter falls deeply in love in/with Boston, putting her heart through life’s wringer as her fourth release attempts to resolve the experience.
BY ERIC THOM
There are thousands of singer-songwriters plying their trade but few stand out as far as this one. Kat Goldman’s fourth release sees her doing what she does best: playing to her strengths with an edge that only comes from a position of absolute confidence. Her voice is distinctive, phenomenal and, coupled with a piano-friendly approach to writing and her innate sense of building around a strong hook, Goldman has crafted a 12-song release that seizes your heart as it tells you its story.
Somewhat autobiographical, this is a concept album based on a love affair gone wrong in real time as she, to follow along with the press notes, “explores the dark underbelly of American society through the eyes of a character, the “workingman,” as told by a female narrator.” Taken slightly aback by its bizarre cover art (P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights?), the 12 originals follow the demise of a relationship but, more importantly, reveal an approach to music which knows few boundaries. From the acoustic guitar-led, semi-melancholic “Take It Down The Line”, an introspective Goldman sells its sad, yet soaring, chorus with the help of (her own) haunting backup vocals and little else, in the role of the protagonist. Switch gears, if not cars, for the ‘50s-sounding girl group holler of “Release Me’ with its pounding beat and face-first bass line (Marc Rogers) as Goldman fronts an imaginary girl group to drive home her need for distance from this one-sided deal, if not complete salvation.
Both songs go a long way towards underlining Goldman’s spirited approach to her art – and she can do it all. Folk. Pop. Rock’n’roll. Soul-searching introspection, with little or no accompaniment – and we’re only two songs in! The third track, “The Courthouse”, boasts chiming guitars, a wall of B3 and an aggressively animated, old-school “Na-na-na-nah-na-na-na-na…Nah-nah-na-na-na” full chorus. WTF? In a lesser artist’s care, this might suggest sheer chaos yet Goldman’s gift is to demonstrate her mastery over all she touches. The hooks are set so deep, you may lose the story line but you’ll never lose the urge to commit each melody to memory – uncontrollably singing along after repeated plays. With indigenous-style percussion, the ring of acoustic guitar and warm, acoustic bass, “Put Your Toolbox Down” injects compassion and gentleness into the narrative as Goldman volunteers a dash of Suzanne Vega onto her palette of sonic references. The title track is stripped down to voice and piano – how Goldman starts her day. And, like all her music, she’s able to squeeze more color from simplicity than most on yet another catchy track, adding little more than Lou Poumanti’s minimal organ runs to flesh out the intimacy of the moment, her vocal range stretched beyond the expected with delightful results.
Likewise, “South Shore Man” begins simply before adding meaty drums (Davide Direnzo), her own multi-tracked backup and Poumanti’s B3 as the piece lifts skyward. Aside from the sound of angels in the form of (her own) backup vocals and the heavenly caste afforded by Kevin Fox’s cello, there’s something truly haunting about “Ghosts in the Apartment” – maybe it’s its subtle resemblance to the key strains of Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage” (yet few would connect the two) and it’s one of the strongest tracks on the release, if not its most ethereal. “Baby, I Understand” slows things down to acoustic guitar and Goldman’s soft, seductive vocal, resplendent in her multi-hued collection of evocative inflections. “It’s Ovaaah” is pure singer-songwriter, its dramatic piano chords and abrupt pacing forging intimacy as the song develops arms and legs, getting slightly caught up in its own emotion if not carried away in its slightly schizophrenic cast of characters.
Cue reminisces of Judee Sill as the bittersweet “The One To Dream” comes to life with the help of backup vocals, cymbal washes and acoustic guitar. The purity and clarity of her self-assured vocal, her every articulation and quirky pronunciation (“funny” becomes “funney”; “money” becomes “munney”), a slightly nasal tone and that can’t-quite-place-it accent all serve to define a distinctively strong, independent artist on top of her multiple skills. As the piece builds from its simple melody, adding backup vocals and further instrumentation – featuring an impressive, other-worldly (too short) guitar solo from guitarist/producer, Bill Bell, this is one song to fall madly in love with. Forget the sour note at the launch of “Mr. Right” – it’s quickly redeemed by this infectious track with its Paul Buckmaster-style build-up, over-dubbed vocals and lovely organ break. A quick-set melody, it’s impossible to discard. The final track sets up the obvious end to any broken relationship – what’s next? “Don’t Know Where I’m Bound” sends the forlorn romantic back to her country of origin (Canada) to be as far away as possible from the blues that Boston brought.
So, whether you follow the concept from beginning to end as the artist makes her case to dramatize the nightmare and myriad emotions that come with bad love laid bare, it really matters not. Goldman succeeds in outdoing herself through the divine creation of a dozen absorbing, accomplished songs, adding to what is already an impressive canon of work.
DOWNLOAD: “Release Me,” “Put Your Toolbox Down,” “The One To Dream”