By Jeff Betten, General Manager of Misra Records
My tongue-in-cheek response to SSE’s own Melanie Stangl after remarking that she didn’t care for Taylor Swift: “Well, I’m glad you’ve so far managed to live a life in which you haven’t had to feel.”
I was of course having a bit of fun at the expense of my friend, but my point was that for those of us who’ve been kicked around a little bit, you need to blast a song like “Treacherous” or “All Too Well” while barreling down the highway every now and then. Catharsis is good for the human soul. (Editor’s Note: I have been kicked around a little bit and do, in fact, feel; T-Swift just isn’t my catharsis music of choice. -MS)
Which, of course, brings us to Kiss the Ground by Kayla Schureman. The album is out now, and upon attending the release party I realized that SSE had not yet made mention of what is easily a contender for album of the year, even still in the early spring chill of April. (Our bad, Jeff.) Thus I took it upon myself to offer this guest review to the publication, so that you, dear reader, could be made aware of the fact that you’re able to spend your entertainment dollars in a heartbreakingly rewarding manner.
Ms. Schureman has been on my radar ever since I caught her before a gig soundchecking with “Tourist Trap” by Bright Eyes. So we’re clearly dealing with someone who had enough taste to recognize one of the greatest songs of the 2000s; never mind that it was only a B-side. That taste is on full display from the first track of Kiss the Ground, in which the songwriting of guitarist Evan Palmer is fully realized by the vocal performance. Kayla knows a great tune when she hears one, and she’s not about to let ego get in the way of letting it kick off her debut record. It’s actually the perfect choice to do so. Visions of an album credit that reads “all music and lyrics by…” be damned, it was the right call. It’s an old approach that’s sadly fallen out of fashion in some circles, but could stand to make a comeback to the betterment of album quality everywhere.
In general, this is a record that’s not afraid to take older approaches. Everything from the musical style to (according to reports) the recording process itself seems to hearken back to another time. The ghosts of Bakersfield and Laurel Canyon are haunting us here, for sure. But there’s a difference between being retro and being timeless, and what makes this collection of songs truly remarkable is their ability to hold up outside of any era. The production is not full of smoke and mirrors designed to trick us into falling for a disc du jour, only to see the hype fizzle upon repeated listenings. This CD simply has not left my car stereo in the two weeks or so since it arrived in the mail, and the album is spoken of with awed breaths and hushed tones among even the most august musicians and industry insiders throughout the city. Indeed, Schureman and her band are onto something here:
And I don’t want to smoke your cigarettes, and I don’t want to wash your shirts
And hear about the scars and the bloodstains, like you’re the only one that hurts
I keep coming back to “Airshow,” the opening song from which that couplet comes, because it manages to find a universality in the solipsism. All of us are alone in our pain, yet we all have it. Whether standing outside a hotel in Phoenix, crossing Idaho, or making your way over the San Fernando County line, the rest of the album implies we can’t shake it with travel, either (though of course, that won’t stop us from trying.)
Perhaps Rust Cohle was right when he said, “Men and women, it’s not supposed to work.” Schureman and Palmer (along with Amelia Curran, who contributes to the song “San Andreas Fault”) would appear to be sympathetic to this claim. In the world of Kiss the Ground, hearts are made to be broken and a relationship is just material for a breakup song that’s already being written. Of course, I might remind you that country music was famously defined by Harlan Howard as “three chords and the truth,” so according to recent divorce rates, the world of Kiss the Ground is at least half-true. But Schureman & Co. do such a fine job of exploring these ideas that you won’t even mind the aching in your chest as the pedal steel lets out another wail.
Kiss the Ground is now available on iTunes and Spotify. You can follow along with Kayla on Facebook here.