On the opening cut of her debut album Stampede songstress Kandia Crazy Horse pulls off an exceptionally neat feat. Her vocal on “California” sways effortlessly from powerful – like, Bettye Lavette draw-off-and-work-that-thing powerful – to across-the-pillows soft and soulful. Add in Ben Peeler’s lovely lap steel and Tim Mitchell’s quiet guitjo chirp woven into a bed of gentle guitar/keys/drums/bass – all backed by the gospel-flavored voices of the Quartz Hill Choir – and you have 4 minutes and 55 seconds’ worth of confident grace with a whole lotta soul, folks.
And just as quick as all that fades, Ms. Crazy Horse turns around and lays down the supreme street-savvy funk of “Congo Square” – combining whoop-whooping ultra-cool bass lines and … fiddle? Sure enough: that’s Megan Mullins working the bow sweet and funky while KCH leads the way through a shoulder-swaggering, hip-swaying workout.
Kandia Crazy Horse would get plenty of points just for being able to interpret two such totally different tunes so well if they belonged to someone else; the fact that she wrote them both – along with six others out of the ten songs on Stampede – is a mark of just how diverse a talent this woman is.
There’s twang supreme in “Gunfight At The Golden Corral” and the snakeskin-booted “Cowgirls; “Cabin In The Pines” is both beautiful and haunting – an invitation as much as it is a warning; and “Soul Yodel #3” could have no better-fitting title (oh, what a voice!). The Neal Casal-penned “So Many Enemies” never loses its composure as it makes its slow-burning way towards an inevitable conclusion, while you could’ve told me “Americana” was a long-lost Joan Armatrading tune and I would’ve believed you.
I’ll be honest here: after having the AM radio of my youth pound The Eagles’ greatest hits into my brain back in the 70s, I could’ve gone the rest of this natural life and the next one without hearing “New Kid In Town” – but bless your soul, Kandia Crazy Horse: you not only made that old Souther/Henley/Frey chestnut palatable again, you actually made it yours (her arrangement is basically her voice and a piano against a backdrop of synth shimmer). And just as she knew how to make an entrance, KCH knows how to leave ‘em smiling as well. “Quartz Hill” is a showcase for all hands: a multi-chaptered ballad that offers up some clever rhythm change-ups before settling into a long closing passage, featuring magnificent vocals by Crazy Horse and the choir holding hands with cascades of guitar.
Maybe her years as a music journalist herself have helped Kandia Crazy Horse avoid the pitfalls and clichés that so many/too many debut albums tumble into; most likely, she’s just wicked talented and it wouldn’t have mattered what she’d done prior to recording Stampede.
Whatever: this is a hell of a first step on the part of Kandia Crazy Horse. May there be many more to come.
Brian Robbins still listens to his old AM radio over at www.brian-robbins.com.