Anna Marie & Company’s first album Kinfolk mixes raw southern blues with a hint of folk. Lead singer and acoustic rhythm guitarist Anna Marie’s two distinct contributions are responsible for this unusual combination. Her passionate vocal style is old school blues through and through. The way she stretches each word over a variety of notes is beautiful while making the lyrics virtually incomprehensible. When the lyrics are obvious they stick to typical blues themes: financial trouble and love, either lost or celebrated with plenty of religious imagery thrown in for good measure. There are also many references to cities in the American south, strange for a band based in Montreal but indicative of their love of the blues and respect for its rich history and heritage.
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The band’s folk influence is a little more subtle, owing in part to sharing the minor parts of the band’s sound with blues’ sophisticated sibling, jazz. Back From Space, which features a delightfully gospel-like keyboard riff, has a distinct country charm and is the album’s obvious choice for a possibly successful radio hit. Jeremy Morcos’ pretty guitar leads accent it and other songs nicely without begging for attention. They highlight the band’s blues influences while adding a subtle jazz sound. Further evidence of a jazz influence is the experimental rhythm patterns on songs like Land of Eden, Miles From Mars and New Orleans Mournin’. Leaves A Mark’s acoustic guitar parts have a dark and melancholic alternative folk flavor, giving it the air of an early Bright Eyes song.
Most of the time I find Anna’s rhythm guitar work sloppy and its timbre has a way of making the songs sound hollow. If her rhythms were played on an electric guitar they’d likely have a fuller sound which would’ve been an exciting way to compliment the album’s darker segments. Unfortunately, she also seems to be the weaker of the band’s two guitarists and as a result the strumming often doesn’t quite fit the rhythm set by the the rest of the band. Equally unfortunate is the almost inaudible drums and bass, which occupy an almost ghostly presence in the mix. In a live setting the band, particularly its rhythm section, brings some of these songs to wild and rocky crescendos. All of those moments are missing on Kinfolk.
New Orleans Mournin’ serves as a great example of what initially drew me to the band and comes closest to exhibiting the dizzying ferocity the band is capable of in a live setting. It masterfully harnesses the darkness of blues and early rock ‘n roll. Beginning slow and mournful, it eventually builds to a somewhat restrained frenzy after a few clever and satisfying false builds.
Kinfolk isn’t perfect. A band’s first album rarely is, but they make up for it with performances that are passionate, earnest and will only get tighter as the band ages. Their clear talent for songwriting makes this album an exciting first step in a musical adventure that I look forward to following.
Kinfolk was released on November 29 at Casa del Popolo. Anna Marie & Co. is playing at Honey Martin on December 20 and L’Escalier on December 21