The biography of Kendl Winter on the K Records website states that Apple Core, her fourth solo album, could be called country music. As an understatement this ranks pretty high, as it is impossible to label this record as anything other than country; bluegrass being the only other possibility. So for any lovers of this music, they are sure to find something in here they like, but for anyone used to the output of K Records, they may find the production a little too sweet and Winter’s voice lacking the character to really bring some life into this collection of songs.
Yet if there is any failings on this album, it is certainly not for the want of trying. Within the framework of country music, Winter ranges the songs from ballads to high-energy bluegrass ditties, throws in a variety of instruments, and mixes up her songwriting from the personal to the direct. Nowhere could this be more evident than on “Cotton Skies”, a song she originally recorded with the Blackberry Bushes. Starting off with doo-wop vocals, it kicks into a driving Springsteen verse before the horns come in, turning it into a powerful pop anthem not too far from Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
Winter’s voice changes throughout the album’s slower songs, resembling Mary Lou Lord at times, but occasionally adding a country twang or gravelly levity at times. It sometimes makes the songs seem impersonal, as on the opening track “Made It Through the Yellow” or “Waiting for the Taker”, but sometimes works, and when it does her voice can evoke Josh Ritter or Whiskeytown—just listen to “Sharp Stones Into the Sea” for evidence. It’s on the bluegrass tunes that her voice really seems to be at home, and which also give her opportunity to display her fine banjo skills. There’s a real Appalachian feel to the title track, where the playfulness of the melody and the insistent banjo riff help the song’s five minutes shimmer by.
There is no doubt that there is real talent behind Apple Core, that it’s the work of someone capable of crafting strong melodies and successfully trying out new ideas. These work especially well on the more up-beat tracks, where changing the instrumentation or the tempo work extremely well, but it’s on the slower tracks that any deficiencies arise. A prime example of this is “On to Me”, a plaintive melody with funereal organ that sounds ‘good’, but which by a stronger singer could be really something special. Without that strong voice this is still a good album, and one which has enough variety that it could find quite a few suitors, as well as build on the fan-base that Kendl Winter has already amassed with her previous work and collaborations.
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