First things first. Sheâ€™s a female singer/songwriter from Alaska, so you canâ€™t read a single Kate Earl review without suffering through at least one mention of that stateâ€™s most famous snaggletoothed musical export, but Iâ€™m not going to do it here. They donâ€™t look or sound alike, for one thing â€” Earl is smokinâ€™ hot and one of the most enjoyable debut artists Iâ€™ve heard in years â€” and for another, I prefer not to think of that other artist at all if I can help it. So there.
The press Iâ€™ve read on Earl contains a lot of comparisons â€” Joni Mitchell, Cat Power, blah blah blah â€” that miss the point without being entirely inaccurate. Her jazz-tinged brand of folksy pop will certainly go down smooth with the Lilith Fair crowd, but in most respects, sheâ€™s a pretty singular artist. Sheâ€™ has an admirable set of pipes, but her voice has enough of a vulnerable edge to keep the songs grounded in honest emotion. A song like "Free" could be deadly in the wrong hands, but she nails it â€” as candlelit ballads go, itâ€™s flawless.
It helps that Earl and producer Tony Berg never lost sight of her true strength, which is her songs. This is a deeply autobiographical set, and Berg brought in some big guns â€” Mitchell Froom, Michael Penn, Wendy Melvoin, Jon Brion, Pete Thomas â€” whose presence helps the material live up to its fullest potential. Even when the production gets semi-involved, like on "Officer," everything still has room to breathe. Though Hunter does drag a bit in the middle, there isnâ€™t a bum song in the bunch, and thatâ€™s something most artists canâ€™t ever say, let alone about their debut.
Color me impressed. I want more.