She becomes electric
Acoustic guitarist Kaki King strikes a new chord
By Rachel Syme
“Yellowcake”, the first single off of Kaki King’s new album, “…Until We Felt Red” sounds like a waking dream; her voice floats across quiet acoustic guitar picking and an electronic downbeat like a girl’s whisper. The effect is both haunting and nostalgic, like opening an antique music box.
This is not the first time that King has composed an arresting song her solo acoustic guitar work has been captivating audiences for over five years, from her beginnings in New York subway stations to her virtuoso live performances on stage and screen. King, who taught herself to play guitar as a teen, carved out a thriving career as an instrumentalist, one of the first solo pickers to find mainstream success in decades. She plays guitar in a fever, thumping on the frets and drawing emotion from every string.
In other words, Kaki King did not need to sing on her new record. She did not need to recruit a backing band, or add Wurlitzer and bass beats to her acoustic sound. She did not need to change her style, but both fans and new listeners will be glad that she did.
I was going to go crazy if I made another solo guitar record, she explains. I didnt have it in me at the time. I knew that even on my worst day I could play a solo show and people would be wowed; it wasnt boring, but I wanted a new challenge.
...Until We Felt Red is a reflection of this challenge, a mash-up of global rhythms, slow-burning atmospheric ballads, simple folk melodies, and thoughtful lyrics. The words are the most apparent deviation from Kings previous style, but the whole album feels different; instead of compact, intimate acoustic licks, the listener encounters songs with many movements and moods. King moves swiftly from eerie shoe gazer material into African drumming without pause, peppering the sound with high-pitched vocals that compliment, rather than overpower, the songs.
At first I thought, oh my god, Im making a mix tape, what am I doing? she reflects. But eventually you feel that though every song sounds different, it still sounds like yourself.
King began playing in Manhattan at 21, busking and eventually premiering her demo recordings at the Knitting Factory. Now 26, Kaki begins her national tour where she began, performing at the same venue on September 7th with Christine Baze. King is excited to begin her tour in New York, a city that she claims is as responsible for her career as her guitar.
I came to New York and was so naive, says the Atlanta native. This city gave me a degree and a music career. I guess that for a person like me, New York really delivered everything it promises.
Kaki King plays the Knitting Factorys Main Stage at 8 PM next Thursday (212-219-3132; www.knittingfactory.com).