This week, a look at new albums from Kat Edmonson, A Giant Dog and Electric Touch.
‘Way Down Low'
Is Kat Edmonson Austin's great jazz hope? That was the line when she released her debut album, "Take to The Sky," in 2009. The Houston native, who moved to Austin in 2002, the same year she made it to the Hollywood audition round of "American Idol" before getting cut, has gained a following over the years with her unique voice, a sweet, gentle smokiness that can hit all the highs and lows and has been compared to legends including Billie Holiday.
But even the tracks on "Take to The Sky" weren't exactly straight-ahead jazz. Sure, there were standards including "Summertime," but there were also covers of contemporary pop songs: "Lovefool" by the Cardigans ("love me, love me, say that you love me, fool me, fool me") and the Cure's "Just Like Heaven."
On her latest, "Way Down Low" (released on Edmonson's own Spinnerette label) she mixes things up more, adding a guitar where there was once just a piano. What was once a smoky basement club is now more of a smoky cafe.
Her tendency to blur the lines of categorization have been a bit of a challenge for Edmonson, at least when it comes to the music industry.
"Are you jazz? Are you pop? Are you a singer-songwriter? What do we do with this?" Edmonson says of her experience dealing with the marketing side of the business. "That's always been a concern of mine as I'm working on music. How am I going to offer this up? And will anyone embrace it? But I've realized it can be as much of an issue as I want it to be, and when I just give it to people and say this is what it is and don't make an issue of it, the reception is better."
The presence of acoustic guitar on the album will definitely bolster the argument of those who want to classify Edmonson's music as the work of a singer-songwriter, or at least something decidedly not jazz. "Long Way Home," which features a guest spot from Lyle Lovett, counters brushed drums with a little bit of twangy swing; "I Don't Know," one of the few songs on the album that Edmonson didn't pen, introduces itself with strumming that immediately calls to mind George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." It's a good look for Edmonson — the guitar gives the songs an earthiness that wasn't there before.
"When I was writing these songs I was hearing guitars, and that's what I wanted on this record," she says. "And it was really exciting because for a long time I've mostly performed without guitar, and it's a new aspect that's fun to implement into my music."
So is her decision to fill "Way Down Low" with originals. Though Edmonson, 28, has been writing her own songs for nearly 20 years, it took some time to get to where she was comfortable performing her own music. Her being unfamiliar with the technical side of writing jazz songs was one thing that stood in her way. Recording her songs involved working with others to flesh out the melodies that were in her head.
"It was a tedious process, to put the songs into a format that a musician can sit down and play," she says. "But I discovered that I had very complete songs, which is what I wondered all along."
Since her last record, the singer has partly relocated to New York, where she now splits her time with Austin. The tracks on "Way Down Low" were inspired by her move. The result is a much more personal album filled with moments both lighthearted and dark, including "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times," which finds Edmonson singing, on repeat, "sometimes I feel very sad." It's a simple line, but she sounds as if she's about to cry as she delivers it.
"It was incredibly liberating, and exciting, and a little bit scary to step into this new territory," she says. "I was coming out of quite a lot of transition, and I was naturally feeling very excited about it all, but at the same time kind of I was very sad and kind of mournful of things past."
A Giant Dog
(Tic Tac Totally)
The Austin music world is not a monogamous affair. For the past few years, the city, with a bunch of help from Houston and Denton, has been home to a "Big Love"-sized extended family of bands, with A Giant Dog living in the middle house. A Giant Dog, formed in 2008, branches out into a crazy bramble of other bands, with drummer Orville Neeley alone in groups that include OBN IIIs, Bad Sports, James Arthur's Manhunt and the Best (who knows how many other bands he's formed in the time it took to read this). AGD bassist Graham Low and vocalist/guitarist Andrew Cashen also play in OBN IIIs. Low plays the cello in Quin Galavis' solo band. Lead singer Sabrina Ellis also fronts pop 'n' soul band Bobby Jealousy.
Somehow in the middle of all that A Giant Dog put out a great debut full-length, a caffeine-laced loss of control that shakes the sleeping guy in the corner awake at 2 a.m. It's party music packed with wild vocals, buzz-saw guitars and a rhythm section that demands moving and shaking. Ellis and Cashen's songs anchor the thing, catchy pop with lyrics that are both beat generation odes to leaving the 9-to-5 world in the dust of an old car and absurd barroom singalongs.
Part of the magic lies in their ability to spin two-minute songs into short stories with twists that can make them feel like a movie. "Anyway" begins as a fiery but innocent enough song about desire; halfway in everything drops out but drums and the line "I would/marry you/if you/told me to." Desperation kicks in and the rest of the band joins back up before the song runs out of gas. In "Cowboy," an endless party ("yeah I wanna get drunk") winds up in space: "should've been a spacemaaaan/floating in a tin caaaan/drinkin' up the black sky/wait for the invasion/get'em with my raygun." It's an unholy union of Elvis and David Bowie with a raging backing band.
A Giant Dog opens for Spoon on Wednesday at Red 7. The show, a benefit for former Austin music writer and current Houston Press music editor Chris Gray, is sold out.
‘Never Look Back'
(Island Def Jam)
Austin-based rock band Electric Touch, which has enjoyed a decent amount of national attention over the past few years, helped along by appearances at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and other festivals, return with their second full-length, "Never Look Back." The band's bio throws out a record-collection's worth of punk heroes, including the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks as well as more traditional classic rock go-to's Aerosmith, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Lead vocalist (and British transplant) Shane Lawlor's rock growl is appropriately desperate as he fires off lines about destructive relationships and such, but the arrangements and production are clearly more indebted to arena rock bands than scuzzy punks. "I Can't Wait" pulses with synth strings and whoa-ohs, while "Alone," with its slow, bluesy piano and sweeping guitar, is tailor-made for hoisted lighters in a stadium. "All The Love" aims similarly high — maybe less Aerosmith and more U2 — with punchy guitars working atop a speedy dance-rock beat. It doesn't lose steam, it's cohesive, it's ready for more fields full of people.
Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696.