Kaia Kater “Strange Medicine”

Free Dirt Records, 2024

Kaia Kater steps into the limelight with her baroque like folk stylings on a superb third album

There’s a sense that Kaia Kater, a Canadian of Grenadian heritage is hitting the zeitgeist on “Strange Medicine”, her third album. She started off with banjo-based roots songs on her debut album while her second release, “Grenades”, featured more fully realised band backings, soulful Americana you might say.  “Strange Medicine” goes one further as Kater immerses her songs in a rich tapestry of sounds, at times reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s jazz-influenced soundscapes, Aimee Mann’s pop deliciousness and the arrangements conjured by Joshua Rifkind for Judy Collins back in the 60s.  It’s an album which places Kater firmly in the limelight along with peers such as peers like Rhiannon Giddens and Alison Russell.

As with Giddens and Russell, Kater inhabits the rich (and much hidden) history of injustice, the colonialism, sexism, racism, and misogyny which she and her forebears have suffered from and transforms this into a somewhat triumphant riposte. The album opens with ‘The Witch’,  a collaboration with Aife O’Donovan, which is given a delightful folk-rock ambience, somewhat akin to early seventies UK  underground folk bands as Kater delves into the misogyny which condemned numerous women to death. ‘Maker Taker’ has her banjo to the fore although it soon evolves into a splendid horn-laden quest and it’s followed by the baroque stylings of ‘Mechanics Of The Air’, a song suffused with forebodings of doom featuring guillotines and mushroom clouds.

While a song such as ‘Floodlights’ is as enticing as anything from Mitchell’s “Hissing Of Summer Lawns” album, Kater dives into darker waters on the chilling ‘Often As The Autumn’, a drone-laden song which harks back to Child Ballads. She is accompanied by the legendary Taj Mahal on ‘Fédon’, a song which references a slave revolt in Grenada, her father’s homeland, and Alison Russell appears on ‘In Montreal’, a song which elevates bluegrass into a loftier, almost classical realm as the pair deliver an impressionistic portrait of the city. ‘History In Motion’ finds Kater back to basics, just her and her banjo, but it’s a far remove from any sense of rustic back porch musings on a song which is as opaque as a Paul Auster story. The album closes as it begins with another song which recalls the drifting, jazzy and beguiling folk rock of the early 70s on ‘Tigers’ with Kater drifting into a Ballard like fever dream. It ends the album on a high note, an album which is quite bewitching.

8/10
8/10

About Paul Kerr 445 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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