Karen Kendrick – Seeker – Album Review
Alrighty y’all…Karen Kendrick is an artist, and she’s got a new album out. It’s called Seeker. Let’s do this.
It starts out with a pretty solid cut…I’ve even heard rumors that it’s the single from this record in the world according to the internet. “Don’t Cry” gives you a good snapshot glimpse of what Karen’s got going on…somewhere in the middle of artists like Melissa Etheridge or Sass Jordan…it’s familiar terrain that’s definitely been tread many times throughout music’s history, but a welcome sound all the same, and one that’s proven results from having been tried, tested, and true for years & years now. I dig the thickness in the bass, the sparkle of the guitar, and the hooks are effective here…”Don’t Cry” is a qualified candidate for that single-worthy status & to be the gateway into Karen’s new album – I’m not here to argue she’s recreating the wheel, but she’s got herself a song that people will certainly sing along with. She’s also got that really addictive extra rasp in her voice on this first track from Seeker too, which shows up every so often throughout the rest of the lineup as well, but it’s much more pronounced and present here as the record begins…perhaps that’s the natural effect of the first impression we get in hearing her sing & the main takeaway that we’ll all have in listening to Kendrick’s voice. She’s got real power in her voice, even when taking on a more fragile set of emotions at the heart of a song like “Don’t Cry” – that empowering strength in the way she hits the hooks at peak intensity is really quite inspiring.
“I don’t want you in my head…” – hey now – who says we don’t have anything in common, right folks? Stars – they’re just like us! Just like the magazines all tell us that they are. “You Don’t Know” is a well-played tune…great guitar solo in the mix for ya…memorable enough as a song…I’d imagine her audience will be satisfied with what she’s put together here, and rightly so. There are a couple of perspectives to write from and communicate in this world we’re living in…tellin’ us what you don’t want is one way to go. Is it the most effective one? That might be more up for debate I guess. Could be quicker to just tell us what ‘you do know’ or tell us all what it is you really want as opposed to pointing out the absence of things – but maybe that’s just me? Not a bad cut…and obviously I have no real opinion on how anyone actually goes about writing a song anyway…y’all do what you do, I’m just here to call things how I hear’em. I felt like she got a great performance into this second track though…particularly towards the end, you can really hear how the individual strengths began to really stack up into something more special combined.
“Retrograde” has credits that tag Chris Muccino to the song…some of you out there might remember him from the recent review we did on his band Forest City & Friends…and some of you, may not. I just write the things y’all…as to whether or not they’re going to land any one of us in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame one day, or be memorialized on a plaque to sit upon your mantelpiece…I’m realistic about it – as in, probably not. Anyhow – he’s on “Retrograde,” and it’s a good song. I’d say it’s my favorite of the opening three cuts most likely…better ideas, better melody, more uniqueness to the sound…all that kind of stuff works out here. I don’t think that makes it more single-worthy mind you…if that’s what we’re talking about, sure, you’d wanna go with “Don’t Cry” or “You Don’t Know” in comparison to this third track…but “Retrograde” ain’t all that distant of a cousin at the end of the day, there are still many hooks in this tune that would likely have no problem at all finding a home on many of your playlists out there. It’s more of a focused cut in my opinion…and that focus circles back towards songwriting with substance & depth as opposed to making hooks the main priority…for me, “Retrograde” gets my attention a lot more easily in that sense, and retains it through quality sound & writing that feels a whole lot more real.
Wait…what? Did she just use “fisticuffs” in “Whirlwind?” She did! I’m not opposed to it…clearly it sticks out…no one else uses the term all that much anymore, so I’d assume the opportunity is wide open for Karen to add what’s a much more obscure reference in the modern-day into this tune…because why not if no one else is? I mean…I feel like we pretty much found the main space that Karen’s residing in & pointed that out in the first cut on Seeker…she’s not quite Melissa and not quite Sass, but very close to both of those legendary voices stylistically & finding her own comfortable space in between, quite likely to share in at least a few of those same fans out there. Not 100% sure about the mix on this particular cut, and it’s the only one on Seeker where I felt like it came out a bit overcooked in comparison to the rest…maybe that’s just on my end. I feel like I want to say it’s located in the bass, but I think it might actually be in one of the layers of guitar…in any event, as much as I’d like to lay claim to it being solely on my side of the speakers, again, it’s the only song on Seeker where this element becomes noticeable for the wrong reasons…take it, or leave it y’all. I like the hooks in the chorus of “Whirlwind” – the whole cut is probably a bit too much on the Cracked Rearview-side of sound for me personally, but let’s be real – that’s a record that went straight up the charts around the entire world when it came out, so there’s that. I suspect this cut needs a bit more of a final polish to quite reach the same global status, but I’m not saying it’s an impossibility…Karen sings this track with confidence while sorting out all the confusion.
“Silver Linings” gets a great performance out of Kendrick on the mic. All-in-all, she’s clearly got her sound, she’s got her style…she knows how to use her talent, pumps out powerful tones & bold notes from the microphone, and clearly has an understanding of how to get the most out of herself when it comes time to perform. I like that “Silver Linings” has a distinctly different vibe to it…I’m kind of neither here nor there when it comes to the music-box style of melody in the music, but vocally I felt like she did a sensational job here. I feel like to this point on Seeker, Karen’s given us plenty of audible proof that when it comes time to rock a hook for all it’s worth at take a song to that next level through the chorus, that she’s there, ready, willing, and able – here on “Silver Linings” she proves to be just as captivating through what she can provide to the verses and the bold melody you’ll find in the writing of this song. Interesting words to this tune…not 100% sure I was able to follow Kendrick along from point to point here in the details & imagery…but I kinda get it? Yes…there are indeed, “Silver Linings” to be found in just about every situation that we can think of and experience personally ourselves in this lifetime we’re living – you know it, you’ve already discovered that in the majority of days you’ve lived yourself, right? As to whether or not those “Silver Linings” would end up being the first thing to pop up after being shot and “bleeding all over the damn floor” – I mean…I guess they could be? If life flashes before our eyes in those final moments like they say it does…surely there’s time to make a pit stop for a strange metaphor?
“When” is lengthy at five-minutes-plus…I’m not opposed to the idea of a longer cut, but if we’re justifyin’ additional minutes & seconds to the idea here, there’s no reason that every one of these songs couldn’t have been five-plus minutes by the same standards & measurements. As in, I’m not convinced that this track is doing anything all that different from the rest of the lineup…is that just me? Awesome guitar solo in the mix early on into this tune here…maybe a bit shorter than you’d probably expect to find in the record’s longest cut, but it does make an impact – and you’ll get another one before the song is finished as well, so hang tight. Really liked the backing vocals added in along the way…that’s probably my favorite aspect of “When” overall, in addition to the stoic professionalism and confidence you’ll find every time that Kendrick is singing…she clearly knows her way around the microphone and has wisdom in her voice that people will connect to. You get that stellar dose of pedal steel in this song…and I think that’s the most redeeming quality in the melody of “When” when it comes to the music; it’s all as well-played as the rest of the record has been…but yeah…sometimes you spot that extra time on a tune and you wonder where it went as you’re listening to it, or what made it longer than some of the others by comparison ideas-wise. Not a bad cut by any stretch of the imagination – fundamentally, none of the songs you’ll hear on Seeker are…I don’t know that they’re all that ‘new’ per say, but they’re good tunes.
I think the closest I came to indifference was probably on “Full Circle” – I ain’t gonna turn it off, but I’m not rushing to turn this one up either y’all…just a case of ‘it is what it is’ here to me. There are moments where music can be a vehicle for what we want to communicate…what we want to say…and there are times where pursuing the message as the first priority can have us wrapped up a bit too far inside a song to remain objective about how effectively that message is being sent inside of the sound. As in, you can reach a point where it’s just like hearing someone recite avant-garde poetry, more than it feels like the words were intended to actually BE a song…and I felt that way about “Full Circle” every time it came back around. Performance-wise, Karen’s a consistent professional – you’ll never find the quality in what she does drop in terms of the strength of her performances…but the ideas of “Full Circle” stretch a bit thinner than perhaps she’s realizing here. “Full Circle” has a very distant, dreamy, and loose vibe to it – just short of meandering or wandering, but not too far away from that assessment all the same. My gut tells me that it’s gonna take a bit for “Full Circle” to make an impact on the listeners out there if it’s going to make one at all…I felt like aside from the concept itself, the rest didn’t quite reach the level of her ambitions and hopes for how this experience would have come out. Probably needs some strings, maybe a tiny lil’ orchestra to enhance some of the drama and sweetness that could be magnified more.
“Stars & Headlights” brings back Chris Muccino again according to the credits tagged to the file-name. I like the piano a lot in this cut…I like the main hooks of the chorus, and the instrumentation shines pretty brightly in the latter-third of this tune. I also really like Karen’s voice when she’s simply singing along later on into the final parts of this cut, no words involved – she sounds great in the third minute of “Stars & Headlights,” very natural and in the moment. Mind you, that’s not knocking her performance earlier on either…I feel like she did a stellar job throughout this track and put in vocals to be seriously proud of. I might not always love each & every song on Seeker as I’ve listened, but as far as her voice is concerned, or the quality of the instrumentation on this record, Karen and the crew of talent supporting her haven’t let anyone down for even a moment. There’s a true dreamer’s vibe that runs right through the spirit & sound of “Stars & Headlights” and an inspired energy that many hearts & minds will easily connect with.
You feel that weight of “Purple Halo” from the very first seconds in that same way you can feel the melodic burden of a song like “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” begin…which is essentially the blueprint for creating a track like “Purple Halo,” even despite the many differences between both tunes. What’s similar will draw out undeniable comparisons that any set of ears can hear…but as The Simpsons reminded us years ago, there’s a solid pathway to success by putting a shiny new clock into an existing product if that’s what ya wanna do. Overall, despite the similarities that will have many of us thinking we’ve already heard “Purple Halo” in some way, shape, or form throughout music’s history – I’d still say this song came out as one of the real highlight moments of Kendrick’s album in terms of the final results. Honestly, there’s a great chance that this is my favorite track on the record…just not entirely sure of how much Karen’s truly responsible for the reasons as to why that is…other than that, thumbs right up.
If I’m being real with ya…I don’t know that there are ten songs here…I’m feelin’ like there’s closer to five, a couple I’ll remember, and an album overall that plays it fairly safe where a few more chances might have potentially paid off a little more. “Round & Round” is a good tune…but I feel like there’s no argument that I could make to convince myself or anyone else that it’s a great one…and while that’s bound to happen here & there in the lineup of any given album…that’s where our objectivity is needed most. It’s the difference between a ten song record that’s really good, and a seven song EP that’s fantastic – you following me? When I get to the end of Seeker…I’m just not entirely sure that I can say “Round & Round” brings anything more to the record that we haven’t experienced on it so far…and that kind of makes it real tough to justify its inclusion in many ways. Good song…I’m not gonna turn it off by any means…but once again, I’m not sure Karen’s giving us reasons to rush over & turn things up either – and that’s something she may want to consider when creating those future albums. Or maybe she’ll just want to tell me to pound sand – that’s okay too…I sleep the same exact way, every single night over here, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time if someone didn’t agree with everything I’ve got to say. I really liked the use of ambience in this track…it was probably the touch of nature added in to “Round & Round” that became the most impressive singular element…though I did like the distance in the sound of the harmonica in the mix as well. It’s a low-key ending to a record that shows us a lot of what Karen is capable of as a performer, yet still needed to find that one major memorable moment or spark that might continue to bring us all back time & time again…I think there’s more to her than she’s revealed in the themes & tunes you’ll find on Seeker, but I do think it’s all really well produced & performed overall.
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