FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: DUSTING OFF “THE REAL THING” BY KATE WALSH
A welcome week’s break in Cornwall has meant a break from the norm of regular Fifty3 Fridays. On these occasions I like to dust off a much-loved record from the shelves and this one is from one of my favourite singer-songwriters of all time, Kate Walsh. The year after she recorded this album, she stepped out of the limelight for what has turned out to be a lengthy hiatus. One can only hope for a return one day.
The Brighton-based artiste had an interesting grounding in the music industry. She was just 20 when releasing her first record, Clocktower Park, on the independent UK label, Kitchenware. Then, unsigned for four years, she recorded and self-released its follow-up, Tim’s House. The album reached an unlikely No. 1 on iTunes, turning Kate Walsh into a media darling at home amid confusion with her actress and hockey-player namesakes. Snapped up by a major label and then bizarrely dropped, she emerged in 2009 with Light & Dark, on her homespun Blueberry Pie label. Her fourth studio album, Peppermint Radio, was an eclectic collection of songs from her formative years, chosen I’m sure for their individual memories and resonances. Kate added her matchless imprint on each song to the extent that most are unrecognisable from the originals.
So, on to the real thing. A new Kate Walsh album is prone to break the mould of her previous work, and The Real Thing, her fifth in a career spanning 10 years, proved to be no exception. “No overdubs, no gimmicks, just the real thing” it proudly announces on the sleeve. In the latest twist from her, the 10 songs in this collection were each recorded live in the studio in a single take. All you hear is Kate Walsh: the voice, her guitar or piano accompaniments, and occasionally some cello from her long-standing stage collaborator, Jocasta Whippy.
Does it work? Well, yes, as a supreme counter to the inflated, auto-tuned efforts of many of her peers at the time, this is communication stripped to its barest. Her words are delivered with a quiet passion and you hear every syllable. There’s a simplicity to Kate’s work that should never be mistaken for naivety. The title track says it all: “You know it’s real if you can feel your heart.” Bathed in a lush melody, Walsh gives rein to some melismatic Joni Mitchell moments in a song that shows a welcome optimism compared to much of her past work.
Although there remains a reflective mood to the record, hinting that the singer recalls love lost as much as that found, tender love songs like “The Real Thing” and “You Are Home” show Walsh can write equally from a happy place. Indeed, the hope of enduring love has rarely been more tenderly put than in “He Is A Bird”. From the sweeping melodrama of “The Dark Knight” to the glowing imagery of “The Baker”, the latter heightened by Whippy’s sympathetic cello, Kate Walsh puts words to music seamlessly.
Things reach a fitting conclusion in “Snow”, a perfect song for Christmas (so apologies that I am dusting this off at Easter). At Christmas time of course, sentimentality is forgivable and, in any case, redeemed by the eloquent refrain: “Our love is like snow/It covers all we know.” Kate Walsh always demonstrates a great command of song structure. Her bridges and middle eights are a regular delight, while her delicate vocal constantly purrs. What The Real Thing lacks in variation of mood, it scores in intimacy. You listen to music in precisely the manner it’s meant to be heard and, twelve years on, that still rings true.
A version of this review originally appeared via Consequence (then known as ConsequenceofSound) in Dec 2011.
MARCH SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
A regular feature of this site is the monthly Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist. The latest one features all the songs in order from March editions of Fifty3 Fridays if they are to be found on Spotify, of course. Regrettably, one of my three Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition choices - Dan Sealey’s “Yesterday Came” - isn’t there. In fact, Dan does not appear to have a Spotify page while Glastonbury ETC finalist Cordelia Gartside does have one but her ETC entry “Stranger in the Water” isn’t listed yet. The Playlist opens mindfully with “Why Did You Go” by Chvrli Blvck and closes with ETC finalists Prima Queen and “Eclipse”. You can find me on Spotify, if ye so wish, at TonyHardy53.