There is always something incredibly touching about the sound of someone laying bare their heart in a song or on an album. From the first verse of ‘What it Means’, the first song on Katie Brianna’s new album, Dark Side of the Morning, that is what we hear: her heart, plaintive and yearning. What that immediately signifies is a brave performer – a brave songwriter, too – who is prepared to show all of her cards right from the start.
It’s a dangerous gamble: the performer can’t control the listener’s reaction. Being so exposed to the listener may go wrong, especially when we venture into the second, title, track and there is that heart again, coming through the arc of Katie’s voice. But it doesn’t go wrong. The vulnerability that is on display from the start of this album is also its strength – and the strength of its creator. When an artist makes such a gamble – to show her entire hand – she shows us that she has nothing to hide and also, perhaps, that part of her knows that we will like what we hear. So there’s an audaciousness there, too, and it starts to emerge by the third track, ‘Oh Night’, and by then we are definitely on the ride and there until the end.
The musical influences on Dark Side of the Morning are strongly alt-country and Americana but there are some traditional Irish sounds there too. Country music is a genre steeped in traditions; to acknowledge them in a substantial way – within the structure of a song rather than throwing out a random sound or bar here and there – is a mark of respect to the artists who have come before.
This album seems like a work of respect and tradition and of a young woman who is finding her own musical path through them. By understanding where she’s come from, Katie can better chart where she’s going. Leading her through is her distinctive voice, which is full bodied and sure. It is a voice that could have found its way to jazz, yet it sounds perfectly at home in country music.
Dark Side of the Morning is an accomplished piece of work. It is hugely interesting – to me, at least – that in a short space of time we’ve had Melody Pool and now Katie Brianna, both women in their early twenties, releasing very sophisticated albums, both as independent releases. I don’t know whether they have both chosen to be independent artists or if events just turned out that way, but if anything independence has allowed them both to choose the best people to work on their albums, with the attendant outstanding results.
Dark Side of the Morning is a debut album that promises much about its creator – and because she has taken her time to craft it and release it, I have every confidence that its the first step in a long career. I genuinely cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.
Dark Side of the Morning is out now.