Kin

KT Tunstall

Jaydone, 2016

http://kttunstall.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/08/2016

Trying to classify KT Tunstall is a tricky job. Is she a power pop singer with personality and integrity? Is she a pop-country star for adults? Is she an alt-country singer who would have fit in perfectly in 1993 next to Liz Phair, Tori Amos, and the Cranberries? Truth is, she is all of these things, often on one album, which could be why nobody really knows what to make of her.

Right out of the gate, KIN offers polar opposites along a similar spectrum. “Hard Girls” is a Pink song through and through to the point where it almost feels like a cover; the self-power lyrics, the sly irreverence, the dance breakdown and the populism of it all seems like a desperate push for radio relevance (for me, anyway, though maybe some 12-year-olds in suburban white America may glom onto it).

Past that, things get better. “Turned A Light On” demands repeated plays, appearing on the surface to be a fine midtempo acoustic number with some gorgeous vocal harmonies – it would not sound out of place on a Cranberries record – but as the song plays on a psychedelic swirl takes hold, and the sustained keyboard notes along with some Who-style guitar tricks (think the middle section of “Overture” from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Tommy) add an ethereal layer to the song. All of a sudden, Tunstall’s voice is echoing around the speakers, giving the song another dimension.

“Maybe It’s A Good Thing” and “Evil Eye” are fine modern acoustic indie rock, driving and engaging, the latter employing Foster The People-like echo effect to increase the size of the song but it works because of Tunstall’s attitude and grit. It’s the song most reminiscent of her 2004 debut and its minor hits “Suddenly I See” and “Black Horse And The Cherry Tree,” great songs both.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to fans who have followed the Scottish artist’s career is in how upbeat and straightforward this disc is. Yes, there are flourishes and ambition and a myriad of directions, but it’s a strategic move away from her film scores and recent albums back to her original – and, some would say, safer – territory. And there are echoes of power pop giants of the past throughout, such as Fleetwood Mac and Sheryl Crow on “It Took Me So Long To Get Here, But Here I Am.” But Tunstall always sounds forward thinking and restless, and her voice is as great as ever. That song, more than any other here, also announces a newfound maturity and confidence, necessary after Tunstall swore off recording in 2014.

Certainly, part of KIN’s charm is in how it manages to be thoughtful and joyous at the same time – except maybe on the sleepy title track, which evokes the best of Eye To The Telescope but updates the sound and lyrical content for the present day. Granted, the approach to each song is fairly similar and so they start to blend together after a while, particularly on the back half of the disc, but it’s not enough to drag down the entire concept.

Maybe it’s a good thing we can’t easily classify Ms. Tunstall. That artistic and spiritual restlessness is welcome if it will continue resulting in minor power-pop gems like KIN.

Rating: B-

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