Listening to Kat Edmonson sing is like filling your lungs with the kind of fresh air that comes when a quick summer rainstorm gets swallowed up by brilliant sunshine. There’s a brightness and clarity to it that elicits, well, happiness. Edmonson is a jazz singer, but also a singer-songwriter who likes to define her sound as “vintage pop,” and that makes perfect sense because there’s something about it that is sweetly old-fashioned yet entirely in the here and now.
Edmonson’s latest record, “Old Fashioned Gal,” is her fourth since 2009’s debut “Take to the Sky.” I’ve only visited her previous releases briefly but have promised myself to return to them because if her cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” is any indication, my record collection will soon be expanding. But, for now, let’s focus on the new one, which is the reason for her show this weekend at Stone Mountain Arts Center.
“Old Fashioned Gal” is 11 tracks, all originals, and all anchored by a voice that transcends the decades. On the album, you’ll hear piano, bass, guitar and drums but also a 13-piece string orchestra, background vocals, horns, woodwind instruments, vibes and other percussion, organ, celesta, harp, ukelele and a saw, all in the name of trying to achieve the lushness of an MGM musical, according to her website. I imagine a kitchen sink would have indeed been in there as well if Edmonson had figured out how to elicit a nice sound from it. She even went outside to record ambient sounds of insects and frogs, which can be heard on the song “Canoe.”
“Old Fashioned Gal” opens with “Sparkle and Shine,” and the tune does just that. “Though your days are gray with indecision/Though you see no prospects coming through/Have no fear you’ve still got one provision/That eternal flame inside of you.” Right out of the gate, Edmonson nails the musical aesthetic because the song sounds like it could have easily come from one of the dozens of MGM films made between the late ’20s and late ’60s. It’s charmingly retro, complete with lyrics about dreams and starry eyes. Same goes for the next song, “I’d Be a Fool.”
The album could have stayed on this course, but Edmonson made a bold choice with the third song, and it’s my favorite. Born out of self-doubt and a stretch of time that Edmonson found herself feeling self-conscious, “A Voice” is a testament to the saying “the only way out of something is through it.” The song is a piano ballad for the ages. “If I had a voice I would sing/And I’d be satisfied/I’d sing away the pain/Inside of me.” Edmonson’s shimmering voice is tremendous.
“A Voice” made me an Edmonson fan for life, but there’s one more that must be mentioned, and that’s the title track. “Old Fashioned Gal” has a delightful throwback charm, and yet Edmonson is singing about very modern issues. “Are you tired of being assaulted by barrages of emails/And are pop-up ads destroying your morale?/Well look no further brother, we were destined for each other/I’m an old fashioned gal.” The song goes on to playfully berate online dating, cell phone addiction and television while longing for the “old ways of relating, making friends and even mating.” Then Edmonson sings a line that goes into the lyrics hall of fame: “Just come over, let’s play records/How about a game of checkers?” Yes, please! When it comes right down to it, isn’t that all we really need?
And in case you’re wondering, the rest of the album is pure listening pleasure with songs like the honey-sweet “Please Consider Me,” the stark and moving “Goodbye Bruce” and the sassy “Not My Time.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Stone Mountain Arts Center, 695 Dugway Road, Brownfield
HOW MUCH: $30
TICKETS & INFO: stonemountainartscenter.com