I've been really digging this track by Texas-born singer Kat Edmonson, "Lucky," from her new album Way Down Low. Listen to it if you can with headphones, and see if you don't fall in love with it as well.
I love the use of space in the arrangement, the silences that speak as loudly as Edmonson's lyrics which she delivers with just a hint of melancholy and vinegar. "Life is just a dream," she sings. "Lucky you / Lucky, lucky me."
Randy Jackson had no problem telling Edmonson that she "Didn't look like a star." Then again, maybe he meant that as a compliment?
Each morning, when I'm half awake, and half shaking off some weird dream, this song plays on the radio in my skull. It's spooky, and beautiful.
Some quick history. Edmonson was a contestant on the second season of that unholy amalgamation of American Bandstand and The Hunger Games, American Idol. God bless Randy Jackson, but apparently he had no problem telling Edmonson as she was being booted off the show that she "Didn't look like a star."
Then again, maybe he meant that as a compliment?
Edmonson went on to record a killer record of jazz standards and jazzy interpretations of contemporary songs, including The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" and John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over." Her new album, co-produced by Edmonson herself, with input from legendary producer Phil Ramone, is even better, mixing up Edmonson's originals, including the title track, a duet with fellow Texan Lyle Lovett, with innovative takes on classic songs, including Brian Wilson's masterpiece "I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times."
Edmonson is very much a contemporary artist, with a healthy, openhearted love of the past. When I asked her if her original songs were rooted in the harmonic and rhythmic language of jazz, she said yes, and that they are rooted in rock and roll, classic pop, folk and country as well.
Well, of course they are! So much for pigeonholes. Here's my conversation with Edmonson:
Chris Becker: What's it like for a singer in the recording studio when time and budgets are tight? Is there pressure from inside or outside of yourself to get in that vocal booth and nail a song in one or two takes?
Kat Edmonson: First of all, even though I've had tight budgets, I've had the unusual experience of working with some of the greatest industry legends in the studio at the good fortune of their generosity. My experience recording albums has not been entirely dissimilar to a band sludging it out in their garage. However, my whole career as an independent artist, including working in the studio, is supported by a very limited budget.
And there is an overall pressure that comes with that, a looming worry of: "THIS IS IT! And if we don't get it right this time, we don't get it at all!"
I'm grateful to have as much experience as I do playing shows and performing because it's actually most natural for me to go into the studio and sing one or two takes and be done. I typically track live and take the approach that it is as though we are performing in front of an audience. My best performances are in front of audiences anyway, so if I do too many takes of the song, I find it harder to maintain my intention of what I'm trying to express.
CB: You successfully used Kickstarter to raise funds for the production of Way Down Low. What do you think about crowd funding? Is it a game changer for musicians on their own or independent labels?
KE: It's without any question a game changer. It's the difference between artists needing label to make a record and not needing one. It's pretty revolutionary for artists of all mediums.
There's no middleman. There's no investor. There's no owing of any money on the back end, which is remarkable! I think it's a fantastic and very empowering platform for artists. It is also a wonderful way to stay in touch with one's fan base.
CB: In your press kit, I read that you credit your mother for acquainting you with the Great American Song book. Were you already singing when you were introduced to songs by Cole Porter or George Gershwin, or did these songs inspire you to sing?
KE: Nobody has ever asked me that! Great question! I don't know the answer because I can remember singing as early as any memory I have. Given my reaction to music, though, when I am inspired, I naturally begin singing so I imagine that the songs inspired me to sing. They certainly do now.
CB: From your perspective, what's it like now for women in the music industry. Has anything changed since the mid-1960s? Have roles once dominated by men now opened up for women? Are female artists still expected to "look" a certain way depending on what their music sounds like?
KE: I think so. Female vocalists are still expected to look sexy and attractive. I don't think any of that has changed. But there are women that defy stereotypes every now and then and they just sing and play their music and it works for or against them. Now, more than ever, we are a visual society so the issue of how one looks is always relevant, even for people in fields that weren't previously in the spotlight.
Now, everybody gets to be famous to some degree via social networking sites. The importance of appearances certainly hasn't decreased and people haven't evolved past stereotyping for sure.
As far as roles opening up, yes, more women are playing instruments in bands but it's still not as much as men. I can't speak very well on things changing since the mid-1960s since I wasn't there. I wish I could.
A cut from Kat Edmonson's new album Way Down Low: