The day that the world runs out of female coffee-house folk performers who evolve into folk pop artists will be the day the world ends. Or a day when all of these musicians simultaneously open their own coffee houses. Each year, hundreds of these performers seem to get the ears of A&R people either through busking in subway stations, on the street, or bellowing across the street from a large label in the hopes of lucking out. Kaki King went to the “Big Apple” with such hopes and people have listened, but entirely for her breath-taking playing and picking. Now the Atlanta-raised short folkie has released her sophomore album, a record that is short on lush arrangement and quite bare bones. “Frame” sounds as if she’s fiddling with a harp in some high school music room, but after a few strums of her acoustic guitar, she’s setting a mood that comes from the “how-to” manuals of people like Daniel Lanois and Tori Amos, a kind of acoustic-oriented despair. With headphones on it has a swirling effect on the listener as sounds fade in and out of each side.
Coming off like most good preludes or introductory interludes do, King then goes headlong into “Playing With Pink Noise”. The tune resembles Les Claypool’s frantic playing if he took up acoustic guitar and not the long neck bass. King, though, is quite adept at making the guitar more like a drum with intricate chords that recall Jimmy Page to a lesser extent. You can envision her bony fingers weaving over the guitar the way Adrian Legg’s would, weaving and winding the song around a lovely little melody. Perhaps the first true highlight, though, comes with a percussion-driven and yet tender “Ingots”. King keeps the beat while playing her guitar as drummer Will Calhoun keeps a beat that even techno or dance house DJ would grow jealous of. It doesn’t nail you over the head, thankfully, resulting in a near perfect performance from start to finish. “Doing the Wrong Thing” does nothing wrong at all, although it does take the album down a dimly lit back alley. King is able to get the most out of her instrument by letting some songs breathe on their own, the empty moments of air just as vital or crucial as the actual playing itself. It evolves into a rambling, rollicking tune King might have created while on a train bound for nowhere. After two and a half minutes, the song seems to retrace its steps and does it all over again.
The relaxing nature of the album is quite alluring and easy on the ears, particularly judging by the pristine “Neanderthal”, a song title having virtually nothing in common with the beauty of the tune. Here King is basically alone with guitar to weave her dexterous magic. Although not quite as frantic or hasty as earlier songs, King is able to show her wares and proverbial chops consistently on this effort. A country-meets-Americana leaning “Can the Gwot Save Us?” is also interesting, although the dusty lane it strolls along has been done hundreds of times before by the likes of Ry Cooder. The lone low point is an unfocused and almost ad-libbing “Lies”. A cross of the rambling riffs of Django Reinhardt and Chet Atkins, King sounds like she’s short-changing herself and the listener with this average, moody number. She atones for this transgression, though, with a haunting and tension-building “All the Landslides Birds Have Seen Since the Beginning of the World”. She breaks loose for a rampant and manic “Magazine”, another which begins slow but creates a great change of gears.
King concludes the 11-song album with another reflective bookend entitled “My Insect Life”. And it’s the first vocal performance also, resembling Cat Power with hushed, fragile, and quite painfully shy utterances. Petering out some five minutes later, it’s a precious conclusion (hidden track aside) to a fine piece of meticulous and worthwhile guitar pickin’!
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