Odds are very few of us have heard of Stacey McKitrick. Well, let me tell you. For the record, she won the JUNO Award before ever having released her first album, and that’s saying something. On her self-titled debut album, she’s allowed to show off some of her impressive vocals, but this is not to say that this debut album isn’t without some of the shortcomings all too common to many debut albums. (I don’t think I could squeeze the words ‘debut’ and ‘album’ any more into that sentence!) It’s important to keep in mind that hers is a talent that’s just being discovered, and, for that reason, it’s easy to overlook some of the misfires here; but, all-in-all, it’s a very strong opening act for her.
Clearly, there are musical influences from all over the country world. On her website, McKitrick credits Shania Twain and Gretchen Wilson as inspirations, and, based on my listening, it’s clear that she’s striving to stake out some territory similar to those two superstars. I certainly hope, though, that she’s keeping her options open, as her abilities here underscore that she can reach for skies. It’s a great beginning, and I suspect that once she settles into her niche she’s destined to do some great things musically.
1. What Goodbye Looks Like (5 out of 5): A no-holds-barred opening track blasting out of the gates with country musical magic! McKitrick pulls no punches in love, and her opening track throws down the glove. A virtuoso performance on a great li’l rocker, fiddles and all. “Ain’t no clothes in the closet, ain’t no pictures in the frames, and you can find all of your cheap whisky down the drain …” Rest assured: she even takes the dog with her when she goes. Pow!
2. Friends for Life (4 out of 5): Many performers like to follow up big sounds with something a bit softer, and McKitrick chooses the same … or so you think. It starts slow, but then it builds into something a bit louder, much like a really good friendship, ‘Thelma & Louise’ included. That’s the metaphor here, and she sounds a bit like Amanda Marshall did back in her early disks. “Let’s drive until this ride runs dry …” A pleasant surprise. (For the record, “Friends for Life” was penned by Nickelback’s lead, Chad Kroeger.)
3. Somebody Else (2.5 out of 5): Being torn between two lovers is a comfortable place for any performer, and McKitrick stakes out all-too-familiar territory to really do much with it. Every singer has a song in this vein, so there’s really not much fresh and original left to say. It’s a forgivable mistake for a first album.
4. Big Small World (3.0 out of 5): We all know what they say about a woman scorned, and here’s yet one more musical throwdown between boy-and-girl. “If you’re messing around, then you better think it through …” Again, not much new territory, though the track does have some polished guitar work and fiddling worth mentioning. It’s pleasant enough, and it’s certainly danceable; I just don’t think it’ll have real staying power.
5. Loved by You (3.0 out of 5): Again, it’s comfortable territory with a pleasant rockabilly track. It’s the kind of track any bar band can do a decent enough rendition of. What’s frustrating here is that you can hear her vocals crying out for better or, minimally, more challenging material. There’s some great pipes there … it just has to find the right material.
6. Over Tonight (4 out of 5): This is the first genuine ballad on the disc, and it’s not bad. Musically, it’s a bit predictable (again a reminder that it’s a debut album), but McKitrick manages to bring a big sound to the refrain. She has some an inviting voice, it’s not hard to imagine her elevating the material above the mundane, and she sings wonderfully here about ending a romance if and when it’s all over instead of dragging it on until its inevitable demise.
7. How the Story Goes (3 out of 5): Some record producers have the unfortunate tendency to make a song sound bigger than it needs to, and I think that’s the problem I had with “How the Story Goes.” The lyrics are much more quiet and introspective than the accompanying music would lead you to believe; this is the kind of track when trimmed back to just a few instruments in a more intimate setting proves to have real musical legs … much like the bridge toward the latter half of the track. It’s a missed opportunity, but it’s the kind that often gets discovered when played in smaller venues on tour.
8. My Own Thing (3 out of 5): This is a curious track in that it’s, musically, all over the place. There’s a rock undercurrent, and, at times, the vocals have clearly been electronically enhanced. It has a sound – much like the title – all of its own, somewhere between pop and alt.country; and it all sounds very solid with McKitrick’s solid vocals. It’s the kind of tune where you want to know the performer can really let loose and make it all of her own, and I wonder if this isn’t the track closest to the sound she wants for herself.
9. Blame It On the Drinkin’ (5 out of 5): There ya go, girl. That’s music. That’s a sound worth cultivating. That’ll put you on the map. Upbeat, hip, cynical, yet perhaps a life lived more than just a bit surreal. That’s some pretty perfect country guitar sound and some stellar drum work, and it comes to life somewhere between the fiddlin’ and McKitrick’s obvious sense of fun in these vocals. Plus, any song with “Captain Morgan” in the lyrics is a winner with me.
10. On My Own (3 out of 5): Again, I tend to think the track is a bit overproduced, relying way too much on instruments than on the power of the singer. There’s a commercial veneer that glosses over what could’ve been a more heartfelt performance here. It’s not a bad thing, at all. It still underscores that McKitrick has some very solid talent; she just needs to couple her skills with songs that showcase her unique gift instead of allowing her to blend in with the crowd.
The debut is far from accomplished, but it’s certainly something to be proud of. As is often the case with emerging artists, I’ll be more interested in seeing where she goes instead of, perhaps, reliving much of this first album. Now that you’re singing, though, keep at it. Get back in the studio and really marry yourself to some material, and let’s see what comes next.
What did you think of this review?