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Second Life – ‘honed to a fine point both musically and lyrically’

There’s nothing regional about the talents of Kathy Muir. Her Scottish heritage, undoubtedly, influences her deep musical talents, but the songwriting driving an album like Second Life is more all encompassing, broader, and its roots inform it rather than dictate to it. She has largely outgrown the label Americana, but there’s still a strong cross-section of material present on the album that more than justifies it along with some other less frequently used classifications. In the end, this is just fine music, honed to a fine point both musically and lyrically, and such arts need no labels except for the merchants. Muir is certainly a member of the singer/songwriter school, but her sensibilities have a stronger literary bent than many working within the same arena.
“Lucky One” is a rather traditional offering from a singer/songwriter. It’s a variation on the relationship gone bad formula and pleasingly remains hazy enough on specifics that listeners can take away from it virtually anything they desire. “Better Man”, however, is the first indication that we’re working with something much different than the garden variety singer/songwriter – this is much more complicated fare than the typical meditation on a failing relationship and Muir perfectly captures subtle character dynamics with a minimum of words. It’s an excellent choice to alternate those opening songs with a stripped back blues like “Simply That” and the song title contributes to the feeling that it might have been quite a conscious decision. Muir does a superb job with the bluesy strains of this track without straining too hard and shows unflappable confidence through each line. “Honey Child” has some mild traditional country music influences, but it’s much more in a light pop vein than perhaps any other song on the album once the full arrangement begins. The acoustic guitar and vocal opening the song is extraordinarily beautiful.

The lockstep jaunt her collaborators achieve on “Stop Messin’ Me Around” is a highlight on the album and keeps Muir’s vocal bouncing and full of fire. There’s an almost rockabilly feel to the way that the band chases the song and it conveys more raw energy than probably any single track on Second Life. Things noticeably settle on “I Want to Lay Down”, a gently yearning love song that offers a deep glimpse into the beautiful folk textures she can pull from her heart. The urgency returns some in “Born by the Water” and Muir delivers a lyric here that surely rates as one of the finest of the eleven songs. The music has surprising simplicity, but Muir never fails to subvert that seeming simplicity at critical times for effect.

Another of those remarkable moments when Muir’s songwriting raises more than a notch above her contemporaries is “Never Felt like a Woman”. It’s a remarkable confession of vulnerability phrased with careful feeling and pinnacles of unbridled emotion. Second Life ends with the one-two punch of “Troubled Town” and the title song. The first is Muir alone with a piano and it has a powerhouse emotional impact. Muir carefully weaves her voice around the piano playing in an attempt to make their two voices reflections of one and succeeds. The finale brings her together with a broad orchestral backing that she matches up with quite well. It’s likely the album’s best lyric and vocal in many ways and, like elsewhere throughout Second Life, pours every bit of herself into the song.

Shannon Cowden, Indie Music Reviews

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Second Life ‘is all killer, no filler, and a sure candidate for album of the year’

The third full length album from Scottish born singer/songwriter Kathy Muir, Second Life, is an eleven song collection that continues in her tradition of bringing together elements of traditional American music, particularly its vocabulary, with influences from Scottish music history. This isn’t an academic exercise. While Muir clearly writes material personal and important to her, she has the pronounced skills of a mainstream popular songwriter and a number of the album’s tracks operate in a pure pop vein. The presence of violin throughout the track listing gives the songs a decidedly rustic and appealing quality. Many of the songs are distinctly modern despite their traditional trappings while those embracing bygone sounds do so without being crassly imitative.

The first truly signature track on Second Life is the second song “Better Man”. It’s a song that unfolds the way a good short story does – providing listeners with the incidents and context for its character’s lives within a condensed amount of space and making excellent use of melody. “Simply That” steps back from the high pop style heard on the album’s first two tracks in favor of a much more spartan, bluesy rendition that Muir takes control of from the first and dominates with her personality. The turn on “Honey Child” is straight out of the pop song handbook, but the acoustic guitar work removes some of the poppier aspects. The sincerity of the song is unmistakable, but it’s never so sentimental as to be rendered sickly sweet. “Stop Messin’ Me Around” has crackling electricity surrounding it – the song’s live feel helps it take off straight out of the gate and it never pulls back at any point. Muir is firmly in control throughout thanks to assertive vocals more than capable of keeping up with the musical backing.

“Born by the Water” chugs with a straight-ahead purpose and lyrics filled with terrifically evocative imagery. Muir’s ability to convey that imagery never lacks subtlety and conviction alike – she never forces things too much, but there’s no question that she’s with every single word. The spartan qualities of “Simply That” return on “Never Felt Like a Woman”, but without any of the blues idiosyncrasies of the earlier song and it gives Muir ample space to fill the song with her passionate vocal. “Like Warriors” recalls the traditional songs of Muir’s youth crossed with elements of Americana music. The tempo gives it a slightly cinematic feel and the backing harmony vocals give it an added ethereal quality. The sweeping piano lines of “Troubled Town” pair up nicely with Muir’s impassioned vocals. Second Life ends with a magnificent title song that moves with deliberate, stately grandeur completely different from the earlier songs and invested with a completely different amplitude of drama. It wraps the album up quite artfully and gives it a memorable conclusion that lingers in the consciousness long after the final note dies out. Second Life is all killer, no filler, and a sure candidate for album of the year.

William Elgin III, Gashouse Radio

ALBUM REVIEW: “Stunningly complete and beautiful”

Second Life album cover

Second Life album cover

The stunningly complete and beautiful third album from Scottish born singer/songwriter Kathy Muir is a cause for celebration. Second Life is an eleven song collection concentrating primarily on relationships, but it isn’t strictly a downbeat affair. Muir explores a full range of human emotions connected with the experience of sharing our lives with other people and her songwriting abilities enable her to create ideal sonic landscapes for exploring these themes. She has surrounded herself with a first class assembly of collaborators who help elevate the drama far above the mundane. Not all of the songs adhere to a strictly Americana label – instead, some utilize pop and rock song dynamics with unexpected musical approaches. The primary thrust of the album is acoustic, but there’s a rowdy spirit in some songs that undercuts the laid back feeling pervading the album as a whole.

Some of that rowdy spirit comes through on the first two tracks. “Lucky One” and “Better Man” both start out as muted acoustic based numbers but gradually build a head of steam before transforming into full blown band numbers by the second half of the song. The gradual mounting of tension on both tracks is handled with great patience and good instincts.

“Simply That” finds Muir moving backwards by design and serving up the album’s purest example of blues with a stripped back, essentials-only feel. She responds to the musical change of mood with her own shift downgear and brings a lot of surprising, to some perhaps, gravitas to her singing.

 

The lyrical content on the aforementioned songs is all quite superb, particularly “Better Man”.

“Stop Messin’ Me Around” revisits some of the album’s rowdy early spirit in a distinctly different package. The rockabilly thrust of the album is quite different from any preceding songs, but it isn’t a purist affair. Instead, it’s a retro nod with a strongly modern air and assertiveness that never becomes unduly aggressive or slips off the rails. “Born by the Water” features stunning lyrical imagery paired with a powerfully consistent, direct acoustic guitar attack. Muir’s voice, seemingly aware of the lyrical quality, sounds much more inspired here than her earlier fine performances and it helps make this track a less-than-obvious sleeper on the release.

The album’s second to last song, “Troubled Town”, is Muir at her most vulnerable. The song is nothing but her voice, words, and piano accompaniment. The songwriting and her singing must stand on their own more than ever before in this context both succeed spectacularly. “Troubled Town” has vividly written lyrical content that seems to focus on both the personal and a larger macro and the haunting music matching her on keys is perfectly tuned to the narrative mood. The album’s finale is a title song that hints at whole new directions possibly opening up for Muir. The union of classically themed backing with her vocals pays off nicely and creates a great deal of epic drama on Second Life’s final song. The lyrics also strike a strongly redemptive note that ends the album well.

Charles Hatton, Carlito’s Music Blog

October 20, 2016

Album Review: Muir delivers another mesmerizing vocal

Second Life album cover

Second Life album cover

Scottish-born singer/songwriter Kathy Muir’s third album, Second Life, likely represents her peak to this point. Each successive release since her debut has built off its predecessor’s advances and this eleven song collection stands as the fullest realization of her songwriting vision yet. Each of the songs has an identifiable signature – the curiosity with shifting tempos for dramatic effect, the smoky ambiance Muir capably invests some of her lyrics in, and the flexibility to convincingly perform from a variety of temperaments. Muir’s music typically gets lumped into the Americana genre. It is true that she utilizes a lot of traditional instrumentation and certainly displays more than a passing familiarity with the tropes of popular song, Muir music has a bluesy rock and roll heart beating just below the surface of some of these songs. The production highlights her in a memorable fashion and captures her collaborators with all of the balance and vivid clarity they deserve.

Second Life begins with the song “Lucky One”. The arrangement is tastefully inventive – it builds from an acoustic opening into a striding folk-rocker and also features a number of brief tempo shifts along the way that will jolt listeners to attention. The lyrics have more than one layer and resist specific interpretation. It’s all the better for it. “Better Man” builds in a similar fashion and will musically satisfy anyone who enjoyed the opener. The lyrical content has a much more specific, narrative oriented slant than before – Muir’s songwriting excels dissecting the vagaries of male/female relationships without ever pandering to listener’s preconceptions about such material. The key to that is the plain-spoken poetic quality of her lyrics. She conjures a bluesy spirit on “Simply That” and, unlike the earlier songs, it maintains an acoustic approach throughout. The lack of a full band arrangement affords Muir an opportunity to stretch out vocally and she responds with some soulful pyrotechnics that mark a highlight of the album.

“I Want To Lay Down” soars largely on the basis of a beautiful violin playing that carries the main melody. Muir’s voice works as a counterpoint of sorts for that central instrumental figure and delivers another mesmerizing vocal. The pleasing straight forward quality of the music and vocal melody on “Born by the Water” is perfect for getting its outstanding and often poetic lyrics over with listeners, but Muir can’t resist tweaking her listeners’ ears with a few unexpected minor twists. Exceptional lyrics help “Never Felt Like a Woman” stand above the pack and Muir navigates the words with confidence and deep feeling. There’s a slightly exotic quality to the melody, but Muir never exaggerates it.

The penultimate song and piano ballad “Troubled Town” might remind some of a much less pretentious Tori Amos, but Muir firmly crouches her language in the vernacular of Americana, particularly blues, music. The title song finishes the album with a lyric that seems to reference the preceding song some and begins with Muir’s acapella vocal. This is the crowning achievement – the spectacularly colorful yet unobtrusively presented classical background gives Muir a dream-like staging for her vocal. Second Life is the sound of an artist hitting her stride and deserves the widest possible audience.

Jason Hillenburg, Skopemag

Kathy Muir – ‘Second Life’

Second Life out September 30th!

New album Second Life is out on September 30th. Over the coming days you’ll see more news about the making of Second Life, the collaborations, and a very special introduction to a very special artist Gareth Edwards. So, check out the news page and my blog each day.

If you have’t already signed up to the newsletter, sign up now to see an unplugged video performance of Honey Child shot in Seattle last weekend when I was having a wee break in one of the best cities in the world.

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REVIEW: The Other Side by Stereo Stickman

I’m so happy with the review from thoughtful online music magazine Stereo Stickman.

This online magazine is so good to we musicians. They listen, they believe, they share.

Stereo Stickman reviews The Other Side

Stereo Stickman reviews The Other Side

 

NEW SINGLE ‘THE OTHER SIDE’ OUT TODAY

I’m very excited to be sharing my new song The Other Side

The song is on my music page here, as well as the music video here.

SKETCH ARTISTRY
The artwork for the song is pretty special. That is because not only was my first ever live performance captured on video but was also etched on paper by fellow musician and artist Susan Carson. Susan was our sketch artist for the evening at an event I run called T489 Original Acoustic Music Night. I thought you’d like to see the entire sketch she created. Go visit Susan’s gallery to see more of her great work.

Original sketch by Susan Carson.

Original sketch by Susan Carson.

Press Release – The Other Side

Read the background to forthcoming single The Other Side.

 

Sketch by Susan Carson, performing The Other Side

Sketch by Susan Carson, performing The Other Side