[9 November 2010]
I’ll wager Kelli Scarr tells an awesome bedtime story. I’ll bet she takes care to dim the lights just right. I’m guessing she pushes the window out a touch to welcome in some magical mystery night air and leaves the curtains drawn just enough to let the moonlight bring the pages to life. Then I bet she whispers the tale quiet enough to pull you right in and leave you hanging on every word…
...well y’know, maybe. My own storytelling will only pale by comparison, but here goes. Once upon a time in a land far, far way…well, California…a lady named Kelli was in a band called Moonraker. I only pray this was an homage to the derring-do of Commander Bond and his outer space kerfuffles with Hugo Drax, Jaws, Miss Goodhead, et al. One night, Kelli was visited by a bald vegetarian named Moby, who flew her across the globe and introduced her to the majesty of musical communion through raving. And so it came to be that Kelli would manifest her own melodious mojo, cryptically entitled Piece, and it would possess the ungodly power to blow impressionable music journalists’ minds!
Yes! From the fairytale flicker of opener “Salt to the Sea” to the phantom finale “Come Back to Me”, Piece will have you transfixed in its glare. So make sure you’re sitting comfortably before hitting play. Recorded at Chez Scarr, this homebaked debut feels so personal, so intimate you’ll feel yourself mysteriously transported into her frontroom. It’s just after midnight and the fire is roaring away, so pour yourself a shot and pull up a chair.
“Salt to the Sea” gently rows us away from shore. The moon’s reflection bounces across the jet black water. Stars twinkle a secret morse code above. A breathy vocal, the deep swaying bow of a cello, a music box riff rolling over ivory keys, and we’re pulled away into darkness. “Come with me / We could be having such a good time / I could blow your mind,” promises our ferrywoman .
On our journey, we soon hit “Driftwood”, with tin pan alley doo-wop in ragtime dungarees. Beehives n’ banjos. Not unlike Feist’s “1234” on sultry sedatives, it’s just one of many gems that are rich pickings for advertising execs, movie soundtracks, and ideal cover version fodder for bigger name, lesser talent acts. It’s also one of the few sunny moments, the other being the hearty hug of “So Long”, a tipsy samba through a fountain of sangria. You see, listener, most of Piece belongs to the night.
Piece rarely lifts its foot off the heartbreak, but, damn, if it doesn’t make you miss, nay cherish, the comfort in being sad. “Break Up” channels Patsy Cline rousing Percy Sledge from uneasy dreams, as Scarr sings, “Please wake up / I’m telling you I wanna break up.” The sad inevitability of the death of cracked relationships haunts this album. The burden and weight of history. Old ghosts. “I’ve made a mess of my life / Or has it made a mess of me?,” ponders our narrator. The same conclusions stain the aching Fiona Apple-esque “Pure Gold”: “Tonight we’ll be a bonfire again / A fire that has been out for some time / But it still burns in your eyes”. Reality bites , since “Times they change / But the people they are the same.” It’s the grandfather clock drawing Cinderella home, party’s over.
It’s an exhausting listen, f’sure, music so intimate it demands attention. Unlike most records, the listener isn’t excused to do the washing up or prance about in their Superman pants. It’d just be rude. The sound is a whisper away, as delicate as snowflakes. Songs float through the speakers like fog and tiptoe across the floor like apparitions. So best tidy up a bit before you put it on. You hear aged floorboards creak and pages rustle in the hollows between the dusty acoustics of “Brother” and its shivering Billie Holiday mourn. That voice stretches out to some untouchable memory, always out of reach. With haunted eyes and uncomfortable memories, Scarr sings, “I’ll call you when it’s over / I’ll meet you on a cloud.”
Piece recalls countless other artists, but still maintains its own identity. The graceful piano riff on “Baby Boom” immediately echoes the lonely pining of vintage Daniel Johnston. Its single-teardrop reveal—“I sure could use you now”—is a true heartmelter. Several songs draw comparisons to Cat Power’s divine, breathless, southern gothic. “The Wonder”, in particular, could’ve fallen from The Greatest, as its whiskey-teared piano and porch-swing drum brushes give way to an outro with a carnival of souls that kisses it goodnight: “I’ll be there when you bleed / When you’re fallin’ on your knees and you’re tired.”
But the brightest delights appear in the closing pages. “Anything” partly supports that age-old theory that track seven is usually the highlight of an album. It’s instantly classy, classic, and just heavenly. Passion, melancholy, flutes—and, oh, hear come the tears! “You fill me up / But it’s not enough / I’d do anything for just a little love.” On paper, it may sound generic, but it is magic when heard. The worthy closing chapter, “Come Back to Me”, is all shades of amazing, too. It’s an in-your-face sensual confessional, with lines like, “I’ll never tell where I’ve been this whole time / I feel no shame for where we’ve been.” A circling slide guitar sprinkles stardust over an orphaned six-string and a raw, exhausted vocal. For its four-and-a-half minutes the world stops turning, as Scarr sings, “You said goodbye / I can’t forget all the times we haven’t had.”
Piece is a beautiful record. A mesmerising, bewitching début. Amongst its ten tales, there’s nary a dud in sight. It feels timeless, out of time, and could’ve been born in 2010 or 1910. It’ll leave an ache in your heart, for sure. It’s as sad as friendly faces frozen for eternity inside cracked picture frames or once cherished toys gathering dust in the attic. It’s authentic Americana with a whole lotta soul. Scarr’s is a smouldering smoky voice backed by vibrant, elegant playing and enough trinkets and sparkle to fill Aladdin’s Cave. Like the best stories, Piece is one you’ll want to hear over. Don’t let it go unheard.