From obscurity to topping the download charts, Kate Walsh is one star who won’t burn out quickly
KATE WALSH Tim’s House (Mercury)
AWAY from the racks of the record stores, the music marketing revolution continues to evolve. It’s not strident. There are no rallying cries. No, “Burn baby burn.” None of your standard ranting.
“What do we want?”
“Access to the consumer without the overheads of packaging, shipping and ancillary marketing fees.”
“When do we want it?”
When Take That and Amy Winehouse discovered there was a new name ahead of them at the top of the iTunes UK chart, it was confirmation that downloading can have a meaningful impact on the career of an unknown artist.
You can imagine the questions being asked. Who the hell is Kate Walsh? Why haven’t we seen her records in shops? Where did she come from?
The answers are relatively simple. Walsh is a 24-year-old singer-songwriter from a village in Essex that she abandoned for Brighton, where, until recently, she worked as a shop assistant selling beauty products.
Brighton has a busy little music scene. When Walsh teamed up with producer Tim Bidwell and recorded 10 beautifully crafted songs in his house, she didn’t have to think too hard when deciding on a name for the collection.
She’d recorded an earlier album with a different producer four years ago but wasn’t happy with the results. This time around she decided to control her own destiny.
Her manager arranged for iTunes to release the album. When Talk Of The Town was offered as a free download, word of her understated talent quickly spread. In a relatively short time the album has also made an impression on the American and Canadian charts.
Walsh outlines her strategy. “Instead of raising your price and selling fewer albums, reduce it and get more people listening to the music,” she explains. “It makes sense.”
Walsh is no hot-shot careerist. She began a recent mini-tour of American cities by turning up for her flight at Gatwick instead of Heathrow. Wrong airport. However, she’s a talented musician.
Years of piano study have clearly paid off.
While she prefers to write and play guitar, her classical training gives her compositions a subtle sophistication missing from most contemporary music.
Those who know their classical music chops might feel they hear something of Claude Debussy in Walsh’s songs.
Her pop influences are fairly standard for a young woman; Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos and Lisa Loeb.
Walsh’s guitar comes embellished with a delicate wash that involves organ, glockenspiel, double bass as well as gentle drums. Everything fits snugly around the voice which remains intimate and heartfelt throughout.
“I’m always heartbroken,” she admits. Her songs deal with relationship break-ups and a landscape of personal loss, yet Walsh doesn’t sound needy.
Not all DIY records work. Most are irritating vanity projects. The clumsy musical equivalent of an afternoon banging on at Speakers’ Corner.
But Walsh and her friends have conjured up a sound that musicians back in the day would have described as “tasty”.
A cool double-tracked vocal adds a haunting Olde English quality to Bury My Head: “Springing it on me just when the time was right/you told me about her and all the plans you’re making. . .”
Accordion graces French Song, a song of encouragement for a French boy she fancied.
Your Song has a melody that charmingly plays hide’n’seek. Both memorable and elusive, it seems destined to be Walsh’s defining work. At least until her next album, by which time she’ll be a star. A woman who, quite possibly for many, will fill the void left by Eva Cassidy.
But with songs as unfussy and low-key as Fireworks, about a lonely November 5 night, Walsh shows she has what it takes to write some truly great late-night torch ballads.
THREE TO BURN
1. Talk Of The Town: Guitar-picking like Crosby, Stills & Nash set up a delicious excursion through melancholy and regret.
2. Don’t Break My Heart: The world needs a female Damien Rice, right?
3. Your Song: Hackneyed title apart, this is a superior example of the songwriter’s art.