Album review: This Way or Some Other by Katie Brianna

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Sydney-based singer-songwriter Katie Brianna has released two albums, Dark Side of the Morning in 2013 and Victim or the Heroine in 2016. Brianna’s voice is irresistible, as she wraps it around and inside lyrics and conjures desire and frustration, pain and curiosity. That voice is better than ever on her new album, This Way or Some Other, which has elements of alt country music but which also – as on track seven, ‘Win/Lose’, wouldn’t be out of place in other genres, or other centuries, as that particular song evokes 1950s crooners. And Brianna does croon, in several places on this album.

Crooning may be thought of as the preserve of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin – of only male artists, usually, although k.d. lang might also be called a crooner – but there’s a reason why crooners and their songs endure. Crooning calls to us. The singer is curling a finger in our direction and you can read all sorts of things into it: loneliness, lust, playfulness, plain old interest. The crooner’s motive will remain known only to them but it is almost impossible to resist the call. We always want to get closer to those crooners, across decades (because Sinatra is still calling to some of us). Brianna certainly has that effect – she always, regardless of the song or the style of its music, makes us want to get closer. Sometimes it’s just so we can listen to that voice a while longer; mostly it’s because we want to find out what she’s singing to us.

There is one song on this album, though, where she is not crooning and on which it’s clear that she’s singing to only one person and it’s most definitely not not us, and that’s on the standout single ‘Wedding Ring’. Singing is a mystical art form; there are voices that aren’t technically perfect but which will appeal to far more people than a technically perfect singer could, and there’s no way to analyse that voice and say why it’s so appealing. The listener just knows it when they hear it. It’s the same for this song: there’s nothing technical to point to in order to say that Brianna is not singing to us, except there’s a shift. She’s singing for us, though – that’s why the song is the album. This very private song – this pas de deus between her and the person she is singing to – is offered to the world. That is, perhaps, because she understands that as an artist she can give something to others that can help or heal, that can reassure and incite rapture. Because it is a rapturous song in so many ways, and while not at the actual centre of the album it is the centrepiece. Brianna travels to her interior to provide it, then radiates outwards through the other songs, calling us towards her whether the mood of a song is down or up. Where she leads, we want to follow, this way or some other.

The album was produced by Adam Young, formerly of the Daisygrinders and Big Heavy Stuff, and the musicians who played on the album include members of The Cruel Sea, The Clouds and Front End Loader, as well The Flood, The Re-Mains, Not Good With Horses and Spurs For Jesus. It is a mix of indie rock and country that serves Brianna very well, providing a platform that honours her voice and makes it worth waiting five years for the album.

This Way or Some Other is out now through Stanley Records.

Launch show: 16 April 2021 at The Great Club, Marrickville (Sydney) with support from Lo Carmen.

https://www.katiebrianna.com