BY NICK D’AMORE
Country music can be difficult to get right. In its current pop form, it is wildly popular, but often incorporates the worst parts of much of today’s pop music, with hollow songwriting and laughable lyrical content. Kandia Crazy Horse is deeply rooted in country music’s great artists and is exactly the kind of singer/songwriter who can showcase the best aspects of the art form and bring the music to new ears. Her sweet and soulful voice immediately pulls the listener in; her unique lyrical themes and stylistic variety keeps the listener engaged.
Her second album, Stampede, opens with psych-tinged, “Americana MX ok,” a stark, ethereal track that showcases her singular voice and delivery—she won’t bowl you over with vocal gymnastics, but rather sings sweetly, smoothly, with a delivery that is moving and engaging. The song starts with a beautiful vocal melody mirrored by acoustic guitar, with Kandia singing about “Looking for America, looking for you” and “Changing partners at the honky-tonk.” Right away, this is something different. The song then takes a sudden turn into a minor key, as she declares, “This sassy cowboy movie is over, sugar,” giving notice that this will not be a typical country album.
“Congo Square” is the standout song of the album, a rocking ode to the gathering space in the Tremé section of New Orleans where slaves under French and Spanish rule were allowed to come together on Sundays to dance, play music, and sing. Kandia references the historic spot to draw parallels to the horrors of Hurricane Katrina—“Plague is come again/dead African faces in the water/Pay for original sin—but if that body was your daughter…”—and depict how African Americans n the fabled city continues to persevere through various forms of oppression with their incredible music. Kandia follows this with another foot-stomper, “Cowgirls,” a rallying cry for “every country girl picking a guitar.” This song showcases what makes Kandia’s country music singular: the hallmarks of country are present—pedal steel guitar, a shuffling beat—but her beautiful, folk-inspired singing gives a fresh voice to the familiar country sounds.
The album reaches its zenith with her masterful rendition of The Eagles’ “New Kid in Town.” Kandia’s sparse, piano-driven arrangement is much slower than the easy, Southern California groove of the original, and she extracts a stirring melody from song (a No. 1 hit in 1977), giving it new depth and a sense of longing not present in The Eagles’ version.
With nary a twang in her voice, Kandia Crazy Horse might be more Joni than Hank vocally, but she is obviously steeped in the music. She brings a refreshing, affecting, and engaging new sound to an art form desperately in need of more daring artists who can break through the over-processed morass of popular country music.