Kaki King has never been one for convention. Her third album (following 2003's "Everybody Loves You" on Velour and 2004's "Legs To Make Us Longer" on Epic) is certainly no exception. Over the last few years, she's enjoyed well-earned status as the zeit-girl of instrumental acoustic guitar. Here she bests herself and defies expectation again, ditching her acoustic for an electric, lap steel, and perhaps the most unexpected instrument of all: her own voice; disarmingly winsome and sweet for a woman with so much attitude. The haunting melodies are sadder, the lush orchestrations are fuller, and the sharp edges can cut.
It would be reaching to equate Kaki King's new direction with Dylan's electric debut at Newport. Yet there's no doubt the New York-by-way-of-Georgia musician has taken a sharp left turn with her third full-length. After two discs composed primarily of acoustic guitar, Everybody Loves You and Legs To Make Us Longer, King has added vocals to her arsenal (something she first experimented with on her last album). It could have been a disastrous move. Fortunately, King, who actually started out as a drummer, hasn't morphed into a standard issue singer/songwriter--just as Dylan didn't abandon his folk roots when he plugged in. Rather, her minimalist musings add texture to the atmospheric, post-rock proceedings. And just as her fret work has been described as "singing," her fragile voice is but one ingredient in the mix, which includes bass, bells, and brushes. On the eight-minute "You Don't Have to be Afraid," for instance, she only sings near the beginning and the end of the track. Most vocalists would surely do the opposite. While previous recordings garnered comparisons to axe-slingers Michael Hedges and Preston Reed, the John McEntire-produced Until We Felt Red more closely resembles the sweetly melodic sounds of Lush or Asobi Seksu. McEntire (The Sea and Cake, Tortoise) also provides drums and "things" (synth, vibes, programming, etc.). Once described by National Public Radio as "The Queen of Acoustic Guitar," Kaki King could use a new slogan. How about "The Queen of Lap-Steel Shoegaze Pop"? --Kathleen C. Fennessy