With opening lines like “I’m not ready to paint my face/And cover all that lies beneath,” it’s easy to forget that singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell is only 18. The song, “Running,” is an organ-infused country-blues ballad that showcases not only a writer wise beyond her years, but a vocalist with the kind of sultry alto that entire careers are built on. The refrains of “Running” and “Walk Away” are uncomplicated and instantly memorable, Kitchell’s voice elongating each word with the skill of a seasoned veteran. Although she and her band—which includes Brad and Andrew Barr of Boston’s the Slip and producer Malcolm Burn—shoot for a full, mainstream sound evocative of alt-rock artists like PJ Harvey throughout the singer’s sophomore effort, This Storm, Kitchell sounds most at home on more stripped-down tracks like “Here to There” and the political ballad “Soldier’s Lament.” The way she uses the breaks in her vibrato is reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan, but Kitchell seems more willing to play with rhythm and meter, vamping her way through songs like the bluesy “Fire” in such a way that it’s no surprise Herbie Hancock has taken her under his wing. The acoustic, string-laden “Robin in the Snow” is a little precious, its metaphor a bit too heavy-handed, particularly for a songwriter who’s displayed surprising restraint and such a keen ability to comment on the human condition, but her vocal performance is markedly unaffected. Kitchell still has some maturing to do, but there’s no question that she’s on the way toward finding her voice as both a singer and songwriter.
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