Kara Ann Marie
Royalty is available at:
Folk; Singer-Songwriter; Soul; Gospel
17th January, 2017
The E.P, Keeping On, is available via:
Written by Kara Ann Marie
Produced by Joshua Luke Smith
Mixed by Nathan Mackenzie
Mastered by Scott Barnett
THE main reason behind slowing down this blog…
when I hit the one-thousand-posts mark, is to pursue something bigger and more meaningful. I look around music/society and find ambitious young people make changes and push themselves. Having done nearly one-thousand posts – well into the nine-hundreds at present – it might seem arbitrary to stop/slow at a certain number: I have been doing this for over five years so, in terms of a ‘job’, it seems only natural I am looking around. Don’t get me wrong at all: I love doing it and one of the greatest joys is helping a great, talented artist reach new audiences. Blog-writing is much like directing or filming a T.V. show/film: you get to make a difference but there is a desire to get in front of the camera and do something new. I feel like music is one of those industries one can make a huge impact in – if you take a different approach and work hard. It is great writing and featuring new artists but there is a yearning to ‘get out in the world’ and actually achieve bigger. How that decision will be realised – whether it will be a full shift away or slow transformation – I am not sure but it has to come at some point. The lure of the large cities, London or Manchester, is too strong and a part of me longs for the opportunities and excitement of that environment. In musical terms – I will come to my ‘point’ soon – I feel there is so much out there, past and present, that needs uniting and highlighting – a single place all music can go and be heard. That might all sound a bit enigmatic and vague but my plans and ambitions are codified and enumerated in a safe place: I know what I am speaking about and am excited to see it unfold – places like London and Manchester provide the platforms and people to make it a reality. Aside from my oblique plans and words; there is a bigger point I wanted to raise: those who work outside of their chosen field and actively help others/make the world belter.
It is hardly a surprise my featured artist, who I shall mention soon, is the wife of a similarly ambitious and impressive humanitarian: people who go the extra mile and reach out others. Before I come to her, I wanted to look at those who dream and engage with the wider world; Canada and relocation – after the introduction – and blends of Folk, Gospel and the, almost, ecumenical relevance and meaning one can find in music; finishing by exploring the way music needs to adapt to recapture the evocative spirit and hope we witnessed in past times. The first point, about the dreamers and the fine-world schemers, is important to me and more relevant now than ever before. I have talked about how the world has become less stable and more balkanized than any other. We are seeing a tribalistic mentality in many of our peoples and governments ruling like a thirteenth-century monarchy: ignoring the demands of the masses; controlling and speaking in tyrannical, oppressive terms. Many will say the world has always been this way: there has not been a time when we could sleep safe and have huge confidence in our leaders. I feel the past year has been especially disturbing and dark. Maybe that will not change anytime soon but have hope there are a small number of people trying to make things better – either through creative measures or proactive protests and demonstrations. In musical terms, there are labels/bodies like Orphan No More – which I will link with my review subject soon – that aims to bring out the dreamer in us all – speaking through the torment and hatred – and compel us to edify the planet we live on. Again, like I have said in other reviews, it might be hard for a musician to balance the demands of music with ‘utopian governance’. Music is s full-time job and one that can sap the energy right from you: how is one capable of coping with that and using (that remaining energy) or others? Well, there is a way of creating a happy medium but I am staggered by those who manage to take this approach – and actively try and make (positive) changes in the world.
Kara Ann Marie – triple-forenames and striking looks aside – is a campaigner and activist who, like her husband, creates art that speaks through the mist and tries to shine a light on issues that need to be addressed. That ‘husband’ is a certain Joshua Luke Smith who I featured a couple of weeks back. Kara Anne Marie is one of those people for whom an average, non-committal existence is not an option. She is someone who rebels against inactivity and pacification. In the war against hatred and discrimination, there are those who get involved and tackle it. Orphan No More is a label/organisation that shines a light on the world’s problems and creates music/messages of love and proactivity. I have spoken a lot about Smith’s engagement and profile: how he tirelessly works to raise support/funds for charities – including mental health bodies and The Preemptive Love Coalition. Kara Ann Marie is of the same mind and agenda. She is a woman who cannot sit back and watch people suffer. Before I go on to my next point, let me introduce Kara Ann Marie to you:
“Kara grew up on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada before moving to England where she now lives with her husband Joshua Luke Smith. Together they have founded the indie label Orphan No More which seeks to develop artists and create art that speaks into the chaos and ignites the dreamer in each person.
Not only a songwriter, Kara recently became a certified counsellor and has combined her creative process with a her therapeutic one, saying “These songs are what I needed to hear, personally, to walk through each season over the last few years. They profess both my belief and lack of it during times of loss, fulfillment and everywhere in between. I hope you find yourself in the music, in the moment when all seems lost or against you, when the waves seem high and the winds are heavy, find the sweet song of hope, courage and of keeping on.” Keeping On is now available on iTunes and all digital platforms.
Keeping On is the eagerly anticipated debut EP from Kara Ann Marie. This first offering bears the sound of becoming. It’s an honest and simple reflection of the last decade, filled with the rich and timeless tones of gospel, folk and captivating poetry”.
Recently, I have been getting back into Canadian music and the artists performing out there. In previous reviews, when looking at Canadian artists, I mused how the international media often overlooked them.Certainly, in the U.S., there seems to be a culture of ignorance with regards their North American sister. Maybe they are busy promoting their own musicians but one suspects there is something else at play: a general dislike and shallowness that has been in play for decades. Whether America gets over itself and acknowledges the merits of Canada; I am minded to discuss a woman who represents the diversity and consistency of the country – together with the personalities and attributes many of its artists possess. Hailing from the Toronto area (or just outside); it is unsurprising finding someone like Kara Ann Marie produce an E.P. like Keeping On (and the song, Royalty). Not to label and easily define Canada but their artists, and the population in general, seem a lot friendlier, open-minded and adventurous than most. What I find with Toronto music is an endeavouring spirit and multi-genre desire. Even artists that play Electro.-Pop or Folk splice something else into the mix. That is not the case with many U.K. artists: many lack the experimental and progressive attitude (or plain common sense!) so it is wonderful discovering a Toronto musician again – albeit, someone who has relocated to the U.K. What really gets to me, again, it may be a stereotype, is the general personality and aura of Canadian musicians. As I discovered with recent review subjects Dearly Beloved: nothing is predictable and average.
The band have just released their album. It was recorded at Dave Grohl’s studio and recorded on the same equipment that was used for the Nevermind sessions. With Kara Ann Marie; here is someone who does not just use her musical platform to talk about her own work/talent. She is keen to promote a positive message and lift the mood of the listener. Maybe I am getting cynical in my semi-almost-there-middle-age but I find few musicians concerned with bucking trends and saying anything affirmative. It is interesting discovering musicians that do relocate and the reasons behind it. Maybe love and a new life brought Kara Ann Marie here but one wonders whether opportunities – lack thereof in Canada – was the real reason. Certainly, there is a smaller music market in a city like Toronto – compared with London – and less effusiveness form the U.S. press. The U.K. is a popular destination for many musicians, and whilst she and husband Smith reside, I think, In Bath; the likes of London is right within reach. As such, both have an array of venues and spots they can perform their latest material – both in Bath and London. Having followed Joshua Luke Smith for a while – his latest track and how involved he is with Orphan No More – I am excited to find the similarities between Smith and Kara Ann Marie extend beyond a marriage certificate and their relationship. Maybe that is why the bond was so strong and immediate: both musicians share that love for humanity and the need to bring something deeper into music. The Canadian heroine arrives here and delivers a knock-out blow in Keeping On. I will come to that shortly, but briefly, wanted to look at blends of music lesser-heard in music; semi-religious spirit within songs and how important music is going to be in a rather perilous and disenfranchised time.
There is a bit of Folk in the music of Kara Ann Marie. I use the word ‘folk’ as a part of a compound non/adjective. I see her music as ‘kindfolk’/’kind-folk rather that typically impressions of the Folk genre. Not so much the sound of ‘traditional’ Folk: there is a warmth and modern edge to her songs that put me more in mind with Gospel-Soul artists like Laura Mvula, Lianne La Havas and Solange, perhaps. In the case of Solange – and her sister, Beyoncé – there is a definite Gospel sentiment at play. Kara Ann Marie has a very ethereal, sensual aspect that brings Gospel, Soul and Folk together. It is hard to find a name that draws these three genres together but one might call it Nu-World: a positive, universal sound that brings a sense of soul, religion and transcendence together with traditional Folk and Soul – a sprinkling of modern Pop working in-between the notes. I am discovering a lot of new acts who are reacting to the modern way in a positive and productive way. Whilst a majority of musicians carry on down the same path – relationship dramas and nothing out of the ordinary – there are those unwilling to sit in the back rows, unemotional. Aside from the bands and artists directly attacking hatred and dictatorships: there is an equally important movement combating negativity with positive vibes and deep, evocative music. Kara Ann Marie’s patented blend of Soul and Gospel sounds almost like a sermon but it is never preaching and judgemental. Royalty is a song I wanted to highlight from the E.P. because it embodies Keeping On’s mandates, ideals and aims. Whilst Kara Ann Marie reflects on the last decade (in the E.P.); wrestles with her faith (lack of at times) as she deals with loss, changes and fulfilment. Before I get down to the music itself, I wanted to look at Kara Ann Marie’s role as a counsellor and how that impacts on her creative mindset.
I have mentioned how Kara Ann Marie’s music is, in itself, a new genre: a mixture of other sounds that holds so many different emotions and possibilities. The subjects she touches on include religion and personal doubts; the nature of belief and events from life. Relocation from Canada, marriage and new responsibilities are important. What I find interesting is how her role as a counsellor is, as she states herself, a therapeutic and helpful one. Holding On deals with heavy weather and troublesome emotions. There is that belief and will to keep strong and find sweetness and courage. That fortitude and strength has come from that counsellor role. It is hardly surprising the spouse of Joshua Luke Smith would want to dedicate herself to others and help them. I know there is an inherent confidentiality between counsellor and patient but one can only imagine the sort of issues and conversations that take place. A lot of the men and women Kara Ann Marie has counselled have poured their hearts out and confessed their inner-pains. In that environment, you need to have a steely resolve and be detached to an extent: it is inevitable some of those words and sessions resonate and affect the mind. Being someone who feels everything and connects with the world around her; it is invariable Kara Ann Marie would be affected by what she has witnessed. The clash of professional integrity, personal emotion and the world around her: interspersing that and turning it into something healing and uplifting is quite a hard task. I am not sure whether being a counsellor or therapist would make you more connected to people and the world: it certainly gives you empathy and appreciation for those in a worse position. You cannot do that sort of thing and shake it off at the end of the day. Whilst her professional peers would try to neutralise and sanitise those demons: Kara Ann Marie transforms that into incredible music. We have all been in that position when the water threatens to drag us under permanently. Having that fortitude and determination to overcome is the common bond that unites all mankind. It is a survival instinct. It is the spirit and soul rallying against gravity and heartache.
Whilst it is difficult comparing a song like Royalty to her past material –Keeping On being the debut E.P – one can look at the other songs on the record and see how they sit alongside one another. The title track begins tenderly and has a soothing, aching guitar opening. It is light and reflective and leads to Kara Ann Marie’s wordless, haunted voice. The vocal hovers and repeats in the background like oars cutting through the water – pushing on and steering the boat. These waters, as the heroine claims, will not take her down. There’s that feeling of being sunk or struggling against the waves. The resilience and reluctance to be defeated propels the song and provides it a battle-against-the-world spirit. Filled with fortitude and spirit; you get caught in the mantra-like hymnal that soothes as much as it provokes imagery. Switching to a Spoken Word-style of projection; the heroine looks at the hero – someone securing her and keeping her arms inside the boat. “This is no time for dancing” suggests a ploy for distraction or a lack of understanding – seeing she is in distress or needs saving – makes it a fascinating story. You wonder whether the waves, which come repeatedly, will take her down and how she will get out. Of course, they are metaphors for life and struggle but evocative in their employment. Like butterflies that use their wings to crack through the walls that held them; the heroine will ride the waves and navigate her way through choppy seas – finding a way to remain on still waters. The delivery and poetic nature of the words makes Keeping On an incredible opener that stays in the mind long after the song has completed. The rhythmic chorus and provocative, illuminating choruses balance superbly and showcase a unique talent with a gift for wordplay and poetry.
Walk Slow begins with similarly humming and curious vocals – sounds a bit like Joshua Luke Smith? – as the heroine comes in. It follows Royalty and is the perfect song to keep the passion and momentum going. Sticking the Gospel/Folk mould; there is s soulfulness and passion in the vocal that does not need to be screamed or emphasised. The quality and purity of Kara Ann Marie’s voice carries the song and gets every word in the mind. “Walk slow my darling” goes the line; “Sometimes it takes a long road to get home” it is said. The song implores those listening – or anyone in this position – you will get there and it might seem lost. You might feel it will never happen but you’ll see it. It is a typically spirited and uplifting number that makes Keeping On so strong. I Like the Way has oldskool Soul/Gospel energy and a definite kick. It is funky and cool but has a seriousness and passion inside. The heroine like the way (the hero, perhaps?) does their hair. There is love and dedication at the core and one wonders whether it is directed at her husband, Joshua Luke Smith. I was cast back to 1990s Soul and R&B and the heroines that defined that period. Kara Ann Marie shows confidence and commitment throughout and delivers a stirring and touching song that causes shivers and smiles in equal measures. The percussion is powerful but sparse: clicks and slight thuds give the track its backbone and drive. Finger-clicks and odd little notes add colour and energy to a track that perfectly ends the E.P. Keeping On is an intriguing and full work from someone relatively new to the scene. It shows how strong a voice Kara Ann Marie is and what a future lies ahead. Each of the four songs is different but have that core sound and personality. The command and confidence ensure each number gets into the heart and soul and the range of themes explored surpasses most of Kara Ann Marie’s peers. By the end, you want to go back in and re-explore the music and those moments that hit the first time; discover new ones and let the songs unveil new meaning and colours.
Royalty is the second song on the E.P. and one I was curious to investigate. Following the exceptional title track; there is a sense of this: can any other song follow Keeping On in terms of its power and beauty? Well, from the first moments of Royalty you sense a song that means business and will remain inside you for a while. The acoustic guitar strum – of the introduction – holds quite a lot of weight on its own. It has a definite skip and energy and an underlying funkiness too. It is catchy but meaningful; it is designed to get you thinking and curious and that is exactly what happens. When our heroine comes to the microphone, she is at her most soothing and powerful. Whether speaking to her former self – a more scared and unsure version – or a hero, I am not sure. When they were younger/times past, he/she used to sit at the heroine’s feet – you get the image of a servant or subject prostrating themselves at the throne or asking for forgiveness. There is obliqueness when Kara Ann Marie talks of days and the thought they would never end. Maybe tackling tough times and addressing darker days; as the words progress, new meanings and views come to mind. They belong, the hero one assumes, right next to her – they are royalty and that is their place. There were doubts and bleak times; the sweetheart perhaps doubting their value and place but now things are becoming clear. Again, one can reverse roles and see the heroine in the subservient position. Maybe she has struggled to see the light and through the mist; she is being spoken to by her man who provides the comfort and direction she requires. Whatever way you look at it; the song has a subtle and emotional weight that makes every line really resonate. It is an affectionate performance that is perfect for the song. As the following lines come to view, new interpretations present themselves.
“They told you”, the heroine declares, they could never see their king. They/she was told to wash her stains clean. It is a powerful and original thought process and set of words that really had me wondering. It fits in the royalty/courtship parable but those sentiments get me curious. Perhaps people have doubted the heroine and said she will never find love – in her own country, looking for meaning. Perhaps she has carried burdens and been troubled: that is the root reason she will not find happiness and be able to have a better life. Sure, the roles might be switched and that is something her sweetheart was told – you always look at both sides when diving into the song. Kara Ann Marie elongates some words and lets other trip freely. The pace and varied delineation ensures the lyrics do not pass you by. She takes the trouble to accentuate and emphasise when needed: it is a performance piece and reading more than it is a traditional song. They said she would never have dreams or be able to achieve anything big. Those doubters and haters have been proven wrong. When her king walked in the room, that all changed. She had that moment when she was ‘saved’, in a way. Our girl is bowing to her other and that royal thing. It is an impassioned and thankful thought; she is relieved to have found someone that makes it all better and gives sense to the struggle. Those who were negative and said she would never be able to fall in love – have those dreams and make something of her – are not having to eat their words. I guess Royalty looks at the time Kara Ann Marie met Joshua Luke Smith but one cannot be too hasty. There are other avenues you can consider. Perhaps there is a semi-fictional aspect that could apply to others out there: anyone who is being told they cannot do it; you just need to go out there and get it.
Whatever the true nature and origin; it is a song that really gets to you and shows what a skillset Kara Ann Marie has. Her voice is always captivating and strong whilst those lyrics, in their simplicity, are potent and memorable. You transport yourself in the song and that regal court. You see the princess/courtier bow before her royal subject. Her man belongs beside her and that is for sure. Before the song is through, you are back in the court as the two sit side-by-side. Our heroine wonders why she is allowed to sit by the king. He, in turn, confesses he always wanted her there. It is a sweet exchange and moment and, again, is very vivid. You can see that conversation unfold and the images come through – very grand and ornate table spread with a feast of food and ornamentation. Those looking at more modern settings might just see a romantic date with a very simple layout. Whatever your interpretation; you get a feeling the heroine has found her comfort and hero and is thankful for that. Maybe there is confusion why she was picked and how she got to this moment. He always wanted her beside him, simple as that. Royalty looks at the faith Kara Ann Marie has and how that was almost lost. She wrestles with her beliefs and hope and whether she would ever find it again. Now she is happy and fulfilled; looking back at the bad times does not seem quite so tough. Whereas Keeping On looked at the heroine negotiating choppy waters – seeking safe haven and settlement – now she has reached dry land and her king. It is a stunning song that wins you with its heartfelt honesty and simplicity. That voice is always intoxicating and incredible whilst the lyrics, like all other songs on the E.P., differ from what is out there. Potential old subjects – love and affection – are made new and fascinating. Kara Ann Marie is a natural storyteller and poet and ensures her songs have that literary quality.
‘Hope’ is a word that outranks all in Kara Ann Marie’s lexicon. Despite the fact Keeping On evolves from despair and turbulence: the music itself is intended to be hopeful and determined. I’ll reiterate my early points in a bit, but for now, a little more on the E.P. and Royalty. The four-track debut is filled with imagination, guts and reflection. Royalty is a track that stood out to me, as I have gone into detail about, but the entire E.P. gets into the mind. You cannot really isolate a single track and say it stands out because, as you’ll hear with the E.P., it is almost part of a suite. The quartet of songs seem part of a larger story: taking one away from the pack seems rather alien. The reason I have done is for a couple of reasons. I am reviewing E.P.s less and less and keen to highlight individual tracks. Royalty gives you a clear idea and sensibility of Keeping On. It is a fantastic track that showcases all Kara Ann Marie’s talents and strengths. I know she is just starting out but one assumes there will be new material soon. I am eager to see what form that takes and where she goes from here Having laid down an impressive and accomplished E.P.; many ears will be on her and curious. I am not sure whether another E.P. is in her mind or tour dates. Being based around Bath and that side of the country; it is a not-too-epic jaunt into London. I know Smith, her husband, commutes to the capital and has performed at some venues down here. In the same manner, I know there are spots that would eagerly welcome Kara Ann Marie. She strikes me as somebody who could enthral and beguile a crowd with little explosion and drama.
The sheer passion and meaning in her lyrics is ample ammunition. How her E.P. translates and adapts to a modest stage is going to be interesting. In addition to London, there is an entire nation awaiting. A U.K. tour (it could be called Keeping On…and Keep Going) would get a lot of demand. What she has in mind is, naturally, down to her but I know there will be listeners keen to see her up-close. We need to celebrate those artists that step away from everyday and do something new. It may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many musicians are comfortable doing what everyone else is doing. There is something very fresh and intriguing about Kara Ann Marie. I have not even touched on the brilliant music that has emanated from Bath/Somerset over the years. Tears for Fears are probably Bath’s most-famous sons: responsible for one of the 1980s’ best albums in Songs from the Big Chair. Through the 1990s, artists like Propellerheads have inspired newer acts such as The Family Rain to come through and put Bath/Somerset on the map. There is a lot of inspiration and energy which, in no small terms, has helped shape Kara Ann Marie’s work. I’ll end this soon but wanted to come back to the blend of genres heard in Keeping On; artists that promote positivity and inspiration – looking back at Orphan No More – and ending with a little about improvement and dreaming. It is amazing to see how many different sounds are expressed in a four-track E.P. In some moments, you get a sense of Gospel and spiritual undertones; the next, you might hear some more traditional Folk sentiments before moving fully into Soul territory. I have seen many artists throw sounds and ideas will little regards how/if they hold together. With Kara Ann Marie, you have an artist who knows what she is doing and exudes huge confidence in the process.
I am familiar with, as I mentioned earlier, Orphan No More and the ethos they hold. Kara Ann Marie and Joshua Luke Smith established the label (to represent) a collective of artists and artisans; speak into the chaos and sing through the darkness. It might sound high-concept and the stuff of stories: if you listen o the artists represented and the music coming out, it all comes together and makes sense. I have recently reviewed Joshua Luke Smith and a song that raised awareness for the Preemptive Love Coalition. In that, there were messages of hope with personal openness and revelation. His Spoken Word/Rap delivery made the track a very tangible and effecting thing; a young man assessing the (chaotic) world around him and the problems unfolding – proffering solutions, hope and strength. Likewise, Kara Ann Marie looks at obstacles and the broken glass of the world and chooses a pragmatic approach. A lot of musicians are selfishly and slavishly documenting their own dramas, petulance and ignorance without acknowledging things bigger than themselves. I suppose there is a commerciality to love and that side of things but, man, is it boring. I am not down on love and talking about relationships – lest music become infertile and die altogether – but it would be good hearing more new artists address something outside their own doors. Even rarer are those who try and take the, somewhat, unsettling aspects of our lives and create something inspiring. Kara Ann Marie is one of those artists you can see going a long way and having her music played around the world. I am not sure the stations she has been played on already but I can imagine various BBC brands would be interested in her E.P. Keeping On is not only a woman confronting problems and those times when things got too much – and threatened to cast a shadow on all things pure – but a collection of songs for everyone. Each listener will be able to relate to the E.P. and the themes being addressed. Hans Christian Andersen would approve, perhaps iconically, or modern music and its seemingly integration of his short story, The Emperor’s New Clothes. There are so many people who are witnessing modern music and the mainstream and nod their heads approvingly – usually a very specific demographic. There are those who see through it and the frail body that remains. Against the tide, there are real and fascinating artists who are doing things differently and bringing something special to music. Kara Ann Marie is a Queen of Hearts calling out the jokers and those artists in a very predictable, uninspiring club. She creates diamonds (can’t find a ‘spade’ analogy) from darkness and does not need to bluff. In this day and age, she is just the sort of artist who can create a movement and…
ENCOURAGE others to follow suit.
Follow Kara Anne Marie