Kate Earl is a new voice on the radio with her single "Melody" getting some serious airplay on my local stations. "Melody" is the first single released from her self-titled, big-label debut album. And though this isn't really her first CD, it's her first to get national airplay. For a young pop artist, there is some surprising heft to this album that mixes urban beats, pop sensibilities, and even a bit of soul.
Even if you don't like "Melody", I'd encourage you to take a listen to the rest of the album, which surprised me. For me, it really opened up when I heard "Golden Street," which is in the latter half of the CD.
Born in a small town in Alaska, Earl is the daughter of a Dutch/Welsh gas station owner and a Filipino mother. Drawn to music at an early age, she is mostly self-taught on piano, learning to play songs by ear. Later, as part of a choir, she gained an appreciation for gospel music and eventually she tried her hand at songwriting. As her skills developed, she began to wonder if she could make a living with her music.
With a self-recorded demo in her hands, she saved up and moved to LA with her guitar and her dreams to see where they would lead her. Her first album, Fate is the Hunter, was released when she was 23 and garnered enough attention to get her noticed by Universal Republic. Her recently-released sophomore album will garner her even more notice.
This album has a young, fresh feel to it. And though the airwaves are crowded now, I think the crunch of the last five songs makes Earl rise above the din. The first six tracks feel like a Trojan Horse driven through the gates of radio stations everywhere. But Earl's personality seems to reassert itself from "Golden Street" on.
"Melody" has received a lot of attention lately, with an innocent Colbie Caillat-like "Bubbly" vibe. For me, it blends far too quickly into the background with its syncopated rhythms. But "Golden Street," with its organ and urban beats, tells a story about a girl who's lost her faith, trying to find her way among glitz and glamour. Her lyrics don't pull any punches – "People keep saying I'm goin' to Hell if I don't change / But I sold my soul to God when I was barely eight / All of Jacob's Ladders couldn't rescue me / All because I bought that house on Golden Street."
And then with "Jump"'s almost Alicia Keys-ish beats and piano, you hear more of her soul roots and see her talent for evocative lyrics stand out. "I could have been a lot of things / A soldier's wife / Or a centerfold / I could have been a single mother junkie always coming down / I didn't want to roll like that / And lose myself or anything / I wanted to try to make my life the best I could and live for me."
"Learning to Fly" would fit in with any Kelly Clarkson-inspired song list. With powerful lyrics woven with layered meaning, it opens with lines saying, "I've made mistakes / But I won't be ashamed / It feels like fate is lifting me / I can't seem to keep my feet upon the ground / I no longer hide / So I let the sun wash over me / Cause there's no darkness left to hold me down / Now I feel its light / Now I feel the spark that's been missing in my life…" It's that moment of enlightenment, that moment when you know you aren't weighed down by what others expect of you.
My only complaint about the album is that disconnect between the first half and the second. The first half feels like tracks are specifically engineered to get the maximum radio airplay. But the second half is where you begin to hear more of Earl's depth as an artist. Give her the benefit of the doubt, though, and listen all the way through before passing a judgment against her music. With Kate Earl, she proves that she has the chops to find her way to the airwaves.
Check out Kate Earle's website for more information about her music and schedule at KateEarl.com.