Katie Bull: Freak Miracle (2011)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Katie Bull is a highly original talent, a vocalist steeped in tradition who fearlessly rocks the boundaries of the known. Freak Miracle is a wonderfully expressive and free-flowing CD, a fresh and unpredictable mix that highlights Bull's gift for approaching music and songwriting from her own unique angle.
Eleven of the fourteen tracks on Freak Miracle are Bull originals, and no two songs are alike, whether it's an homage to mentor Sheila Jordan on "Back to Square One," a tribute to her mother on "Anniversary," or extraterrestrial vocalizations on "Road Trip." It always helps to have a great band, and Bull's groupwhich she utilizes in different combinations, from spare to full-onare able to follow her in all directions. Special mention goes to bassist Joe Fonda, who is excellent wherever one finds him, and Landon Knoblock, who creates tasteful voicings on electric piano.
Another notable aspect of Bull's music is the way she dives headfirst into emotion, unafraid of the heart's awkward sides. Many of the songs on Freak Miracle concern lost and retreating love, as well as the poignancy of longing: "Oh the night can slice your / Heart out like a steel knife / It can drain your love at / the wrists." But the magic of music is the way it transforms sadness into something beautiful, and as Bull says in her lovely song "Blue Light": "Here's what we are gonna / Have to do: / Spin some light out of / Something blue."
Bull also has a great time turning the Great American Songbook on its head, infusing traditional forms with her distinctive vision. "I Thought About You" is a beautiful example of free exploration weaving with the straight-ahead, and Bull's take on the bossa nova classic "How Insensitive" includes heavy breathing and marvelously weaving phrasing. "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" is simply fabulous, with Bull juxtaposing George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin's lighthearted lyrics with her own darker words, which speak plainly of love gone wrong.
What's refreshing about Bull is her fluidity and continual ability to think outside conventional structures. Her songs are also highly personal, and in that wonderful inversion of art, the more personal Bull is, the more universal her music. Freak Miracle is a treat for the ears, something to perk up the heart and the soul.
Track Listing: Back to Square One; Labyrinth; I Thought About You; Road Trip; Alight; You Were There; One Moment; How Insensitive; Blue Light; Anniversary; Let's Call the Whole Thing Off; Removed;
An Opportunity; The Gifts.
Personnel: Katie Bull: vocals; Landon Knoblock: piano, Fender Rhodes, accordion; Jeff Lederer: saxophones, clarinet; Joe Fonda: bass; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Harvey Sorgen: drums; Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: vocals (6).
Record Label: Innova Recordings