Vocalist Kylie Auldist sounds both confident and soulful on her 2012 effort Still Life.Still Life is the Australian R&B vocalist’s third effort, arriving via Tru Thoughts and following up 2009’s Made of Stone. Opting against more contemporary stylings associated with R&B as of late, Auldist adheres to a retro-soul perspective that is ‘classic’ while avoiding anachronism. This approach, characterized by funk and jazz sensibilities, translates with greater weight and depth compared with her colleagues. Compositionally,Still Life is a collaborative effort between Auldist and guitarist/producer Lance Ferguson.
Title track “Still Life” kickstarts the effort with ‘old-school’ production work characterized by dusty drums, traces of organ, strings, and horns. Vocally, Auldist sounds clear and commanding, particularly on the catchy chorus: “‘Til Somebody found you / I prove the world around you / before the color faded / you know we almost made it.”
“Counting on You” concedes little momentum, employing a call-and-response approach between lead and backing vocals on the verses. Funky, the production continues to emphasize soulful cues while Auldist continues to shine with mature vocals. “Changes” makes modest tweaks to the formula, recalling disco sensibilities indigenous to the ’70s. “Changes” supersedes “Counting on You”, yielding stronger songwriting and more robust vocals from Auldist.
“Daydream” sports a Middle Eastern influenced musical quotation within its production while maintaining soulful-funk cues throughout. Auldist assumes a low-key approach to the first portion of the verses, asserting herself more upon the second half and commanding the chorus. Backing vocals add additional dimension, singing on the neutral syllable “la” while taking the audience back to a simpler time musically. By the conclusion, Auldist is firmly on autopilot with soulful, gritty ad libs.
“The Letterhead Life” lightens things up, sporting a medium tempo and a playful approach by Auldist. The relatively simple chorus makes brilliant use of space allowing for the song to resonate. Other highlights include Auldist’s falsetto and the lush, dreamy strings. “Nothin’ Else to Beat Me” contrasts with more overt funk. Quicker and more assertive, Auldist sounds her sassiest, particularly on the chorus: “Better watch the way you treat me / won’t find nothing else to beat me / there come a time you need me / is there time to leave me?” A cut Sharon Jones or Joss Stone would salivate over, Auldist shows consummate vocal and songwriting prowess.
“About Face” slackens the tempo once more, exchanging funk for a bluesy, reflective number. “The road is long / don’t get me wrong / times moving on there’s nothing wrong,” Auldist sings before belting out the stellar chorus. “See yourself, face in the crowd / I’m facing the mirror / could it be you.” Aided by warm backing vocals, organ, and horns, “About Face” is both momentous and consistent.
“Howlin’ For You” finds Auldist covering indie-rockers the Black Keys. Transformed into a reggae-soul cut, the interpretation works surprisingly well. One quibble is that frontman Dan Auerbach’s nonsensical vocal chorus from the original is replaced here by horns and not Auldist herself, leaving something to be desired. Not a supersession of the original, it provides a compelling take.
Penultimate cut “Night of Lies” highlights the rasp of Auldist’s voice. Featuring strings and piano sans percussive buttressing, “Night of Lies” is a stripped cut likened to Adele’s “Turning Tables”. Inhibiting monotony, the bridge provides contrast enacted by its rhythm. “All In You” closes solidly, playing up a jazz-soul approach. Auldist is sassy, letting loose through the extended vamp of the end, shaped by the backing vocals singing “la la la.”
Overall, Still Life is a fine, consistent R&B album. Hearkening back to the days of classic soul, this updated retro-soul affair is a solid testament to Auldist’s artistry. With no misses in sight and minimal flaws and miscues, there is little to chastise ultimately. Auldist commands, connecting with her audience capably throughout.