It's hard to believe that Sonya Kitchell was only 17 when she made This Storm. All the songs have a mature lyrical and emotional approach that belies her years and they're delivered in a voice that has echoes of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Billie Holiday, and Norah Jones, with a trace of David Byrne and Rickie Lee Jones, too. Still, Kitchell manages to incorporate and transcend all her influences. She's an original and powerful singer without a trace of the teenage warbling, breathy sexuality, purring coyness, or over singing that often passes for emotion with younger performers. Maybe it's her jazz background; she studied composition at the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program at the Kennedy Center in 2003, and toured as one of the vocalists with Herbie Hancock's band to support his Mitchell tribute, River: The Joni Letters. Whatever the case, she's an artist that deserves all the superlatives that have been heaped on her. With producer Malcolm Burn (Daniel Lanois, Peter Gabriel) she's fashioned an album full of stunning low-key beauty. "For Every Drop" opens the album on a strong note showing off Kitchell's lyrical gift, strong singing and melodic strength. Her jittery phrasing is perfect for the stuttering backbeat and leads up to a soaring chorus. "So Lonely" is a simmering torch song about an affair with an older man, and Kitchell's vocal conveys all the excitement, danger and heartbreak of forbidden love. The string section gives the tune a classy sheen. "Here to There" combines pop, R&B, and country to investigate the unexpected ups and downs of life. The tune's jaunty midtempo bounce belies the song's skeptical lyric, sung by Kitchell with an offhand grace. "Effortless" and "Borderline" have new wavey grooves that recall mid-period Talking Heads, funky without being straight out funk. "Effortless" moves between a thumping chorus and a lilting verse with Brad Barr's slashing, icy lead giving the song a fine pop sheen. Kitchell's jazzy phrasing and clever internal rhymes make "Borderline" one of the album's most catchy tunes. It's a subtle call to action with a chorus that imprints itself on your mind after a single listen. This Storm is an album of rare warmth and beauty, with a bright pop pulse that heralds Kitchell as a superlative new talent.
© j. poet /TiVo