Free and legal MP3 from Jessie Kilguss (singer/songwriter combines spacious sound with clarity of expression)

“Americana” – Jessie Kilguss

What I like right away here is the clarity in Kilguss’s voice. The overall mood—upbeat, spacious, minor-key, with a piano pulse–has a familiar, Sarah McLachlan-like sheen to it (and nothing, it should be noted, remotely Americana, the genre, about it). But Kilguss does not milk the drama with any extra vocal ache or wooshiness. This makes an immediate difference, to me. Music of this general sort does not usually come with a restrained singer. (Maybe her previous career as an actress keeps her from having to get all melodramatic vocally.) Kilguss has a pretty tone–prettiness is the first thing to go when histrionics set in—and she doesn’t even lose it in her upper register, which is where many pop sopranos get all airy and blowy. At the same time, she doesn’t have one of those “hey listen to my pretty voice” kind of voices either. Restraint, again, is the key.

The other principal thing I like about “Americana” is the left turn the song takes at the chorus. First we get a brief hit of string-like synthesizers, as the piano either disappears or is overwhelmed, and the word “Americana” sung anthemically, but then, hey–check out that unexpected chord shift (1:08) as she sings the word a second time over accompaniment that lags engagingly behind the beat. One more unforeseen chord awaits us at 1:20, and by now it’s apparent that this elusive-sounding chorus is driven by neither melody nor lyrics but by a surging, almost orchestral musical flow. The lyrics alone on paper do not begin to suggest the music, which is not a disconnect but a testament to the songwriter’s musical imagination.

You’ll find “Americana” on Nocturnal Drifter, Kilguss’s second album, which she self-released earlier this month.

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