The Good: Excellent voice, Good lyrics, Moments of musical composition
The Bad: Often musically overproduced.
The Basics: Bird York's sophomore album (she had a prior indy release!) is a decent outing that will please anyone who likes pop-rock from mature female artists.
Every now and then, I will be watching something and someone will just leap out at me and rattle me because they have so completely captivated me that I cannot do anything but watch them when they are on the screen. One such actress I have recently come across is Kathleen York. Kathleen York erupted to my attention when she did a guest starring role on The West Wing as Congresswoman Wyatt, Tobey's ex-wife. She was so impressive that she had her own arc in the fourth season (reviewed here!). Kathleen York so impressed me with her performance in the fourth season of The West Wing that I looked her up and had to rewatch Crash (reviewed here!) just to see her lone scene! Now Kathleen York has a music career, but she goes by Bird York for her professional name.
Bird York's debut c.d. on a major label, Wicked Little High is a twelve-track, fifty minute c.d. that is best characterized as adult contemporary pop. All but one track is written by York. As well, she plays gopichand, acoustic and electric guitars, squeeze box and programs the drums, on many tracks. She is the primary vocalist on the album and she receives a production credit on many of the tracks. In other words, this album is very much the artistic vision of Bird York.
And it's an auspicious outing. Bird York has a wonderful voice. She has a distinct, smoky alto voice that is able to articulate clearly through both fast songs and long, slow held notes. She has an interesting vocal style which stays primarily within her range and she has a beautiful voice.
She does, however, keep the listener guessing with her performance, putting in rests at surprising intervals. So, for example, on the title track, "Wicked Little High," when she sings those three words as part of one of the most beautiful melodic progressions of the album, she cuts out in the middle of "little," so it sounds more like ". . .such a wicked li'[gutteral u]l high." It's intriguing and the first time I heard the song it threw me off so much I didn't like it. Upon multiple listens (I'm on listen number seven as I write this), that type of musical surprise becomes a delight, especially among such other traditional pop melody progressions.
Vocally, Bird York is not in any way traditional or typical. She has a sultry voice that she stretches over notes in songs like "Open Wider" in a very seductive way. She mixes up the passionate, light rock ballad by inserting a voice-over and it works wonderfully. She has a gorgeous voice and while she does draw out a lot of notes and sequences, she is perfectly articulate throughout.
Moreover, York's vocals have the ability to overcome lyrical insufficiency on the lone track that York did not write. On "Hold On, I'm Coming," the title is repeated over and over in a way would normally be boring, overstated and flat-out repetitive. York makes it new each time she sings it, making the four simple words into an erotic throbbing that leaves the listener aching to have the song continue. Yes, Bird York may well have created the ultimate "get laid in the backseat" theme for any show daring enough to use the whole thing. It has a very visceral rhythm and her vocals are just oozing with sensuality over the simple lines.
Lyrically, Bird York has a nice outing with Wicked Little High, which includes the song she wrote for Crash (and was nominated for an Oscar for!) "In The Deep." Her songs are generally about relationships and are preoccupied with freedom and a sense of spirituality regarding love and loss. She tackles relationships with a very adult perspective, like on "Come Be With Me," which she opens with the wonderful evocation, "Funny how your eyes keep wandering / Everytime I speak of deeper things / My love has no walls, it has no strings / So if you want to go, if you want to leave . . ."
York clearly has the ability to write and whatever disappointment I might have felt when I opened the c.d. and discovered that York's "Save Me" was not a cover of Aimee Mann's song from Magnolia dissipated when I listened to her lines. With beautiful imagery, York writes about a woman losing her love and it is heartbreaking. Instead of some stupid inanity about "baby I miss you" coming out of the young pop stars (or those who write for them), York pens the gorgeous lines, ". . . she cries into the hollow air / Her lips are trembling now / Can't hear the voice she needs to hear / she says 'Save me, save me, why don't you save me from the pain of losing you . . .'" ("Save Me") and it is heartwrenching.
Wicked Little High's weak point is the music. Frankly, I would love to hear Bird York perform live (come to the East Coast!) because I believe an acoustic set of hers would be amazing. She has a wonderful voice and great lyrics, but virtually every track sounds assembled, produced, manufactured. There is a very assembled quality to the sound of the songs and that left me initially put off by the album.
Nowhere is the assembled quality more evident than in the percussion section. The drums and sampling has a very manufactured feel. The drum machines sound like drum machines, there's an unreal perfect quality to the drumming that leaves the listener feeling like they are a tool to the music or that the drum machine was just left running and it endures over a few tracks in a way that is more tiring than creative.
The guitarwork is good, but nothing especially audacious, so even the songs that sound good musically do not push the limits of our expectations. In other words, musically, Wicked Little High sounds familiar to anyone who likes female pop-rock artists. Indeed, in many ways, Kathleen York on Wicked Little High reminds the listener of Aimee Mann on the Magnolia soundtrack (reviewed here!). There is a kind of generic soundtrack quality to the album. It's a decent soundtrack, but every song feels like it could be supporting a visual piece in the background.
On the balance, though, this is a good, adult-oriented album presented by an adult and it works well for fans of pop-rock who are tired of hearing the same prefab young folk churning out immature drivel. York sets her lyrics to music with her great voice and keeps the attention of the listener for many, many listens.
The best track is the lonely musical story "Save Me," the weak link is the unmemorable closing track "Have No Fear."
For other vital female artists, be sure to check out my reviews of:
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
300 Days At Sea - Heather Nova
Tidal - Fiona Apple
For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page!
© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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