The female singer songwriter market is a crowded one to say the least, my ever increasing pile of ‘to be reviewed’ albums is testament to that, and finding something to lift you above the ordinary is no easy task for a newcomer. That task is made even more difficult by the cut throat and cavalier attitude of some of the fat cats that sadly prowl the jungle that is the home to new and unsigned acts.
Sadly, Stephanie Kirkham was another victim of their lethal pounce. Signed to a subsidiary label of Virgin she was given a five album deal on the strength of some promising demos and ideas. The plug though was unceremoniously pulled after the first album. The label was closed down and Kirkham’s deal was no longer worth the paper it was written on.
The one album she did manage to get out on Virgin/Hut, “That Girl”, released in September 2003 features ten nicely crafted tracks which all have lyrics and melodies written by Kirkham although the music has been composed by various collaborators. The overall feel of the album is quite lightweight, airy, ethereal and quirky although there are a couple of darker deeper moments hidden amongst the niceness. That may in truth be the only problem with the album as a whole as it could, for some, get a little too ‘middle class art student’ at times.
It wastes no time letting you know what is in store as the title track and opening cut launches straight into a jaunty poppy rhythm and the chorus is pretty infectious. Kirkham’s easy to like light voice flits around the accompaniment and whilst it isn’t the strongest it has a certain other worldly feel to it. The second track ‘Stay Here Close To Me’ is a more stripped down folky affair and Kirkham comes across as delicate and vulnerable. Her almost child like tone gives the track a very pleasing feel. Things almost drift into power pop for ‘Inappropriate’ which I believe was released as the first single. Like the opener it has another jaunty mid to fast paced instantly accessible melody which is a perfect vehicle for Kirkham’s style of vocal. The three tracks ensure a great start to the recorded career of an artist who should be around for many years to come.
‘When You Were Here’ is the first of a couple of forays into Dido territory whilst “Monday Morning” is reminiscent of late seventies pop and again makes good use of the vulnerability and naivety evident in Kirkham’s singing style. ‘Garden of Dreams’ meanwhile manages to be upbeat and downbeat at the same time as the music is very bouncy whilst the lyric appears to be telling a tale of lonely but optimistic. It shouldn’t really work but it does and it is one of many growers on the album.
Dido comes to mind again on ‘Somebody Else’s Girl’ which is another of those growers and has definite claims to be one of the albums highlights. The lightweight dreamy delivery of the vocal works perfectly with the musical backing, which is just a little bit too electronic sounding for my tastes. However it does give it an ethereal sound which works well with the vocal and leads nicely into ‘Heavy Boots’ which is a quirky pop folk tune which is difficult not to like. Something that can be said for most of the album actually.
The mood changes considerably for the final two tracks. ‘Never In A Million Years’ is probably the most experimental track on the album and has an almost Celtic feel about it at the beginning. Kirkham’s almost spoken vocal gives the track a poetic feel and the background vocals set deep into the mix provide the other worldly feel of mystery. Like its predecessor, album closer ‘Blank White Sheet’ is another far more grown up and serious sounding song than the lightweight pop of the earlier tracks and Kirkham’s nice voice contrasts well with the darker feel of the music and lyric.
Despite favourable reviews on its release “That Girl” soon drifted into obscurity due more to a lack of promotion on the part of the ailing record company than any fault on the part of Kirkham. As debut albums go it is well above average and well worth a listen for anyone with an interest in the poppier side of the female singer songwriter genre. There is certainly enough on offer here to justify a visit to her subsequent albums which hopefully will be plentiful.
NB. More of you will have heard Stephanie Kirkham than you realise as her song ‘Easy As 1,2,3’ was used in the TV advert for the Peugeot 308. The track was finally released as a single in May 2012. Kirkham will also be appearing at this years MFest at Harewood House, Leeds on July 7th with Texas, Big Country and Bob Geldof to name but three. There is also a second album “Sunlight On My Soul” released in 2006 available from the artists website. http://www.stephaniekirkham.com
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2012.