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Kate Walsh

Tim's House

(Verve; US: 29 Jan 2008; UK: 25 Jun 2007)

Review [13.Feb.2008]

Nearly every bit of writing that features Kate Walsh as its subject contains some reference to her music’s similarity to that of Joni Mitchell (obviously, this one is no different).  When actually listening to Walsh, however, the only real similarity to be found between Walsh and Ms. Mitchell, who Walsh does cite as an influence, is the fact that both of them are singer-songwriters.

Joni Mitchell, you see, wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.  She may have been, ostensibly, a “folk” singer, but there was a strength in her beyond the implications of such a label.  She could write upbeat songs as well as slow, reflective ones; she identified with jazz music nearly as much as she did with folk; she could be angry, sad, or utterly full of joy.  Kate Walsh, on the other hand, is like a compartmentalized version of Mitchell, a version who knows how to write slow, sad, pretty songs about boys.  Tim’s House, named for the fellow who offered up his living space so that Walsh could record her album, is full of such songs.

All comparisons aside, Walsh does what she does very well.  Her voice is breathy, yet pure, her guitar playing is clean and professional, and the emotion that she puts into every song sounds naïve but genuine.  This is exactly the sort of music that would go perfectly over one of those scenes in prime time dramas where two main characters are secretly pining for each other, a coupling of tender music and schlocky drama that has already happened at least once, when opening Tim’s House track “Your Song” was featured on Private Practice (whose lead actress is also, confusingly, named Kate Walsh).  One listen to Tim’s House will be enough to convince pretty much anyone that “Your Song” will not by any means be the last song from the album to show up in prime time.  Any one of these tracks would work swimmingly.

Take “French Song”, for instance.  As far as I can tell, its only tenuous connection to France is the bouncy little guitar thing she does and the accordion playing quietly (yes, a quiet accordion) in the background.  She’s singing about a boy here, and there’s nothing particularly telling about France in the lyrics, but one does get the impression that this might just be the perfect song for the episode where our protagonist goes to Europe to chase down the man/woman that he/she loves.  “Goldfish” is musically nondescript, but the words are perfect for the new girl in town making a name for herself: “And I could leave this goldfish sea / And I could start to believe in me”, Walsh sings, and there’s a harmonica involved, which is a necessity in the prototypical “gettin’ out of town” song.  Oh, and there seems to be a boy involved here, too, though it’s unclear what his place is in the narrative other than to “help me to start again”.

Perhaps this analysis is coming off as too dismissive—Walsh is certainly very good at this sort of thing, and she has quite obviously struck a chord in her native United Kingdom, as she has occupied #1 at iTunes UK.  A truly impressive number of MySpace hits would seem to indicate that the appeal extends beyond those borders as well.

Still, when an artist is trying to walk in the footsteps of giants, as Walsh’s press would seem to indicate, that artist needs to try on some bigger shoes than Walsh is willing to step into right now.  In an interview with Rolling Stone, she admitted as much when she said “I’m really happy—and I’m not writing anything! My manager might start telling [my boyfriend] to be horrible to me so that I have some material”.  Tossed-off interview fodder or not, happiness would never have stopped Joni Mitchell, or Tori Amos, or any of the other long-established artists with whom Walsh endures comparisons.

Enjoy Tim’s House for what it is: a collection of pretty little songs about a boy.  The minute you start expecting more is when you’re bound to be let down.


Mike Schiller is a software engineer in Buffalo, NY who enjoys filling the free time he finds with media of any sort -- music, movies, and lately, video games. Stepping into the role of PopMatters Multimedia editor in 2006 after having written music and game reviews for two years previous, he has renewed his passion for gaming to levels not seen since his fondly-remembered college days of ethernet-enabled dorm rooms and all-night Goldeneye marathons. His three children unconditionally approve of their father's most recent set of obsessions.

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