Gin Wigmore: Holy Smoke

Gin Wigmore
Holy Smoke
Universal Motown

New Zealand singer-songwriter Gin Wigmore is an enigma. On the one hand, she has a distinctive, raspy voice that can make her instantly recognizable. On the other, she has a chameleon-like quality that allows her to blend in on each of the ten self-penned tracks on her debut full-length album and sound like someone else you’ve heard before.

You’d swear it was the English Amy Winehouse singing on the retro soul “Hey Ho”, and that it must be the Welsh songbird Duffy on the power pop anthem “Golden Ship”. This may be because Gin (that’s the whole, single name she goes by on her album) is a young artist in search of her own identity. She tries on different styles and attempts to make them her own, but instead the songs bear the marks of what Gin wants to be rather than her authentic voice.

Except Gin does such a good job of making every song infectious. Every cut comes across as one you somehow already know and with which you want to sing along. The very familiarity of her vocals paradoxically is what makes her different. This is ear candy and recalls AM chart singles from a time when hit 45s were more important than whole albums. No wonder she’s on the Motown record label!

Even her innocent girl demeanor seems contradictory. When Gin performed at the KGSR radio program breakfast show at South by Southwest, the host asked her how she felt about having to get up early in the morning to sing at 7:30 am after playing late the night before at Stubb’s. Gin responded candidly with the F-word and immediately was told to shut up and sing. Okay, not exactly in those words — after all, two thirds of the Dixie Chicks (aka the Courtyard Hounds) were to play later that morning on the same bill — but her microphone was cut off and she was asked to immediately play her next song. The crowd gave her an extra long ovation in appreciation for her honesty and talent. She did more to wake people up than the hotel coffee.

Okay, maybe I just wanted an excuse to relate that anecdote in tribute to the pleasure that moment gave me. Seeing Gin live made me a fan before I heard her record, but even if I hadn’t seen her perform, this album would have won me over with its mix of angelic vocals and devil-may-care attitude. Or is that fiendish-sounding singing voice as she snidely growls throughout the album and combines this with her uplifting spirit on songs like “Dying Day” that declare the importance of finding sanctuary and salvation. Gin can crack the whip on “Mr. Freakshow” one minute and declare she “don’t ever wanna ever be a lady”, and then sweetly croon about needing love as she accompanies herself on mandolin on the lovely “I Do”.

That’s the puzzle of Gin. She is all over the place and that makes her mysterious. While this schizoid combination might not work in a more self-important artist, Gin seems content with just having fun. The resulting disc makes you feel the same way.

RATING 7 / 10