The Roots-related singer/ songwriter genre is getting mighty crowded these days, so a young performer needs to have something special to elbow the competition out of the way and leapfrog the queue.
On the basis of her album 'Midnight Mind', Californian singer/songwriter KATIE KNIPP has several such ploys ready to go and she executes them to perfection on this quality-first recording. The first ace is her relationship with her (very) creaky old grand piano. It forms the melodic bedrock of many of the album's best tracks – not least the predatory, Bad Seeds-y 'Hurricane' and the stately 'Sunday' – and its' eerie, cracked feel soon sets it apart from anything else I've heard of late.
The second is Katie's voice and it's a joy to hear in a world where so many contemporary female singers rush for 'ethereality' like lemmings at a cliff. Katie has no truck with 'ethereal', she's far too gutsy for that and she's one of the best Roots-related voices I've heard since Amy Speace. She's especially effective on tracks like the provocative folk-blues of 'Release' and the truly remarkable 'Get In My Life': a full-blooded Mississippi Delta blues which is closer to Lightnin' Hopkins in feel that anything contemporary.
Thirdly, Katie clearly has an ear for collaboration, most specifically with the rhythm section who form her tight-knit trio combo sound here. The guys in question, bassist Nathan Hoehner and drummer Andrew Griffin are ceaselessly inventive, rolling with the punches and setting up slow and determined grooves on tracks like the weathered and redemptive 'Quiet Hell' (which has an almost 'Exile on Main Street' feel about it) or keeping it lithe and supple on tracks like 'Time' and the closing 'Heavy Heart' where the three musicians bring it all back home very impressively indeed.
There's a good variety of moods on offer too. 'Midnight Mind' is broadly a 'Roots' album, but it's open-minded to dally with folk-blues, pop and the occasional bout of Rock'n'Roll swagger, not to mention a couple of solo piano ballad affairs courtesy of the restless 'Someonewherelse' (sic) and the desolate 'Brother'. If I've one small criticism it's that the record is a little too prone to medium-pace tempos. The occasional fiery burst of speed would be good, but this is hardly a hanging matter considering the wealth of great tunes on display.
Katie Knipp, then, is quite a discovery. Her 'Midnight Mind' is a cool, intelligent record full of emotive songs which does plenty to separate itself from the run of the mill singer/songwriter brigade. Let's hope this is merely the first of many from her.
Katie Knipp's MySpace page