As Tales and Tributes of the Deserving and Not So springs into life, the first thing you will note is that the rich and sultry vocals of Kelly Steward hit you like a freight train out of nowhere. Practically noir in nature, her voice is a wonder to behold, honeyed and sweet but spiked somewhere with a smokiness that gives her music a mature and femme fatale vibe.
Hailing from Rockford, Illinois in the US, Steward has roamed the country in various guises over the years from touring as part of a band with collaborative partner Miles Nielsen, her own band The Restless Kind and more. The life that Steward has lead is clearly evident in the subtle way in which she takes Americana and country music and deftly melds them into something that feels old and new at the same time. Tales and Tributes has similar constructs to scores of other Americana albums but what makes it stand out from the crowd is the reflective and ineffable stories that Steward weaves for her listeners. These stories are carried on a voice that could make a grown man weep with ease. One of the most wonderful elements about Steward’s work however is that no matter how serious life may be there is a wonderful playful streak in her, a devilish mischief that seems to glint in her eye and finds its way into her work. You can practically hear the corners of her mouth cracking into a smile as she sings songs like Generation.
Steward has a true gift in how she has reconstructed country music into an almost indie, restorative genre that could turn music on its head. Taking constructs and stereotypes, tossing them asunder and simply charging forth with her own carefully orchestrated slide guitars and harnessed drums. Her album flirts constantly with different musical elements but it’s particularly evident in songs such as Heartbreak Heart and Golden Sun which despite their upbeat nature, there is something more raw, more powerful and more urgent in them. This urgency is something that Steward carries seemingly effortlessly but channels all of her raw power into this incredible music and focusses her all on her work. Crafting daring country rock melodies that subvert expectations at every turn and bringing more joy and humour than can be found in most other acts, Steward is the kind of performer who gives you a addictive personality; one song and you’ll find that you simply can’t get enough.
Tales and Tributes of the Deserving and Not So might be a bit of a mouthful but as an album it’s more than worth getting. It’s a blaring and brazen album rife with addictive melodies and a voice that sounds like chilli infused honey. It’s a beautiful and hauntingly mesmerising album that will see the repeat function more than once.
Review by Joe Knipe