Lots of potential, but not much of it realised on this album of mixed styles and influences.
Kate Vargas claims PJ Harvey and Tom Waits as her two big influences, along with Kat Edmonson. Edmonson is an artist who has a lot of Nina Simone about her singing. Vargas has clearly modelled her vocal delivery on Waits, and presumably absorbs the Simone influence from Edmonson. This seems to be the main issue with this album. It wears its influences too much on its sleeve. The press release throws around genres, Folk Rock, Americana, Vintage Pop a bit like confetti. The last of these is truest, pop with Jazzy touches, the dobro and lap steel that pop up on songs like ‘This Affliction’ do give it a dusty feel, that maybe reflects her New Mexico upbringing. The best songs like ‘Madeline’ and ‘November’ are the simplest. Some of the others do seem to have the kitchen sink thrown at them. As percussionist Granville Mullings Jr uses “junkyard objects” extensively, it’s entirely possible that the sink was employed at some point. ‘Common Creep’ is the best song here by a mile, a sarcastic demolition of someone who is presumably not a friend.
The press pumps her past as “a reformed wild child”. She has it seems “traded the party for meditation, yoga, clean eating and a renewed focus on what she values most—her music”. The songs themselves are fine, it’s the delivery that lets them down. Her voice is rather one dimensional, and to be honest some of the arrangements just need to be louder. ‘ Roll Around‘ is crying out for the rather diffident steel guitar to be replaced by something more powerful. ‘Mountain Song’ similarly feels rather polite. The blame for the slightly underwhelming sound must lie with producer Charles Newman. Parts of ‘The Truth About The Heart’ show what could have been done by encouraging Vargas to let the “wild child” out on some of the songs.
Other writers have seen that “there is an unlimited amount of potential in this superstar on the rise.” And they aren’t wrong. There is a really good album bubbling under the surface. Made more noisy and channelling Polly rather than Kat in her delivery of the songs would beef things up, and then she really will be a star in the making.