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Kelly McGrath – You and Me Today

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Kelly McGrath’s songwriting prowess has been amply displayed over three releases since her 2007 debut, but this performer is now blossoming in a way no one could have foretold from even the trio of beautifully wrought albums preceding her latest release. The first Fingerprints announced her arrival with equal parts style and panache while her sophomore EP Waiting for Mine and her third full length Heartstrings consolidated and built off the template laid down on the first album. “You and Me Today” is the first single from her forthcoming fourth album and wrestles with the aftermath of losing a parent. To her credit, however, McGrath never casts her loss in a melodramatic light. Instead, she deals with the pain squarely and without any of the histrionics so often heard when songwriters tackle the subject. The history of pop music is teeming with laments about lost love, broken relationships, heartbreak, and so on, but rarely do songwriters take on this weighty topic. Words and music seem paltry. McGrath, however, isn’t cowed by the daunting task and addresses herself to the grief with a steely heart.

It begins in a very stark, stripped back sort of way. McGrath’s voice and acoustic guitar set the stage and, despite the song’s relatively moderate length, it slowly unwinds itself into a larger and larger musical body. The drumming enters dramatically not long after the beginning before the rhythm section fills out completely. Despite the expanded sonic tapestry, “You and Me Today” never wanders far away from its Americana roots. It does have an undeniable pop edge, however, that smooths out any potential rough corners and makes it an ideal commercially minded release.

McGrath’s voice is remarkably emotive and she shows a sure hand with phrasing that elevates the plainspoken lyrical content into the realm of performed poetry. She also exhibits a highly attentive ear for the music’s development and knows when to match its intensity. She also knows when to pull back and tamper down her vocal enthusiasm so she can achieve subtler effects. The song construction has great coherence and the inevitability it exhibits makes it more appealing than what you might otherwise suspect. The song ends with a rousing flourish but it isn’t so heavy-handed that it overshadows anything that came before. It runs at just the right length and never makes any demands on the listener than they cannot meet.

Nashville based Kelly McGrath redeems much of the commercial dreck filtering out of Music City these days. The industry’s new found relevance and status as a hub for songwriters depends much more these days on capturing lightning in a bottle than building a solid oeuvre based on skill and fundamentals. McGrath is no such talent. Instead, she continues to write and release songs like “You and Me Today” that stare unflinchingly into the face of life and make art from the return glance.

Lydia Hillenburg