Underneath this remarkable production for a first time album, there is some very serious song writing going on. Katie Brianna has a voice of her own, but one that recalls for me the essence of Emmylou, Gillian Welch, and on occasion Kasey Chambers in her darker moments, Catherine Britt in her less pop moments, and is refreshingly presented in thoughtful arrangements by producer Michael Roberts. It moves away from the three chords traditional country style into what is now defined as Americana, but for me is really city-country music. Katie is not the outdoors girl, she’s the introspective urban young lady with sometimes deep and pensive songs (‘Oh Night’ and ‘What it Means’) and sometimes easy rolling but intelligent lyrics as in ‘Drink’ where she has the pleasure of additional guest guitar and vocals from Kevin Bennett. What a pleasure to dive into this one without the saccharine pop sounds of recent releases from our talented but undersold young females.
As enamoured as I am of this debut album from mid-twenties Australian singer-songwriter Katie Brianna, I’m still not sure how to categorise it. (Which is nearly always a good thing!) One minute she sounds as old school country as you like, the next she delivers a thoroughly contemporary pop song. The most obvious comparison is Kasey Chambers – there are certainly echoes of Chambers’ vocal approach in Brianna’s, though, of course, both singers share influences. But you listen to the immediately catchy waltz of ‘Dark Side Of The Morning’ and ‘Oh Night’ and you can’t help but think of Chambers. Indeed, Bill Chambers has been somewhat of a mentor to Brianna. And then you get to a song like ‘Birthday Girl’ and it’s just a great pop song that could be equally at home with an indie rock crowd as with the Tamworth set. It’s to Brianna’s credit that she’s allowed these songs to take her where they will, rather than try and pursue some pure traditionalist track. Or, worse, some established conception of modern country. Brianna has certainly sought help from the right places, with folks like Glen Hannah, Kevin Bennett, James Gillard and Michael Roberts contributing. It makes for a convincing debut as one of a very few promising Australian interpreters of Americana music.
There is always something incredibly touching about the sound of someone laying bare their heart in a song or on an album. From the first verse of 'What it Means', the first song on Katie Brianna's new album, Dark Side of the Morning, that is what we hear: her heart, plaintive and yearning. What that immediately signifies is a brave performer - a brave songwriter, too - who is prepared to show all of her cards right from the start.
It's a dangerous gamble: the performer can't control the listener's reaction. Being so exposed to the listener may go wrong, especially when we venture into the second, title, track and there is that heart again, coming through the arc of Katie's voice. But it doesn't go wrong. The vulnerability that is on display from the start of this album is also its strength - and the strength of its creator. When an artist makes such a gamble - to show her entire hand - she shows us that she has nothing to hide and also, perhaps, that part of her knows that we will like what we hear. So there's an audaciousness there, too, and it starts to emerge by the third track, 'Oh Night', and by then we are definitely on the ride and there until the end.
The musical influences on Dark Side of the Morning are strongly alt-country and Americana but there are some traditional Irish sounds there too. Country music is a genre steeped in traditions; to acknowledge them in a substantial way - within the structure of a song rather than throwing out a random sound or bar here and there - is a mark of respect to the artists who have come before.
This album seems like a work of respect and tradition and of a young woman who is finding her own musical path through them. By understanding where she's come from, Katie can better chart where she's going. Leading her through is her distinctive voice, which is full bodied and sure. It is a voice that could have found its way to jazz, yet it sounds perfectly at home in country music.
Dark Side of the Morning is an accomplished piece of work. It is hugely interesting - to me, at least - that in a short space of time we've had Melody Pool and now Katie Brianna, both women in their early twenties, releasing very sophisticated albums, both as independent releases. I don't know whether they have both chosen to be independent artists or if events just turned out that way, but if anything independence has allowed them both to choose the best people to work on their albums, with the attendant outstanding results.
Dark Side of the Morning is a debut album that promises much about its creator - and because she has taken her time to craft it and release it, I have every confidence that its the first step in a long career. I genuinely cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.
The Age (Life & Style), May 25, 2013 TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROADS See article online BY BERNARD ZUEL
There would seem to be a bigger distance than just the Pacific Ocean between country artists Ashley Monroe and KatieBrianna. Monroe is from Knoxville, Tennessee, while Brianna is from Sydney; Monroe has a major label contract, Brianna does not; Monroe has a letter from Dolly Parton framed on her wall; Brianna has a Dolly Parton album somewhere.But look closer and there are more similarities than differences. Songwriters and singers in their mid-20s, they prefer to make music that is closer to the traditions of country music than the pop-focused fare that is the industry standard. Consequently, both have had to endure indifference at best, hostility at worst from the money men, labels and radio.
Monroe had to wait seven years between her first (recorded but not released) album and the chance to try again. It was only a basic publishing contract, and the occasional recording of one of her songs by another artist, that kept her away from the standard Nashville survival route of waitressing. "Writing songs kept me fed," Monroe says. "Losing your father at 13 is harder than being a waitress, so I skipped the waitressing and went right to music. But, you know, I never had a back-up plan. I always knew I was going to make music. It's a good thing I never had a back-up plan because I might have fallen into it."
For Brianna, it was a bit trickier than that but there was the same sense of destiny. Waitressing, office work, retail and one job stuffing other people's CDs into boxes have come and gone, but in the end it's come down to first her parents and, more recently, her husband to keep her going. "I don't get many gigs, I don't sell that many CDs and I would really like to make a change. I'm poor," she says, bluntly. "There is in the Australian country scene a kind of defined path, not 100 per cent set in stone but it's the easiest one to follow. I decided a few years ago that that path wasn't suitable for me."
Monroe would understand that niche-within-a niche circumstance, admitting it's not unusual for people to say to her, "I don't like country music but I like your record", because they're so used to the pap that calls itself country. Not that there's anything wrong with that if you like it, she says, but maybe not for her. "I don't just listen to old-style country music but I know that's what I write best and what I sing best. And I'm proud that I could release an album like I did on a major label in 2013," she says. "That's a big deal, because you don't hear those kinds of songs as much on the radio."
Amen to that, says Brianna, who recently asked friends on Facebook if they thought, realistically, she could have a career in Australia or should think about leaving. (The majority said go, go now.) "I'm not the typical Aussie country artist. Sometimes I don't even call myself country any more; more like Americana," Brianna says. "I don't know that I'm going to be able to have the type of career that I want here, but I want to at least try it. I know there's an audience here because all the gigs that I go to, the type of music that I like, there are people there. I just have to reach those people."
It's not that it gets easier in Knoxville, Nashville or Hooterville for that matter but, as Monroe says, if you don't do it, you won't ever know.
"I want to be heard," says Monroe, though it could just as easily be Brianna. "I'm going to be on the road a lot this year and I want to get in front of a lot more live audiences. I can't do anything else but write and make music."
The Sun-Herald, May 12, 2013 Dark Side of the Morning - 7/10 BY BERNARD ZUEL
Dark Side of the morning? She's not kidding. It wouldn't be fair to call Katie Brianna's very attractive collection depressing, for there's something satisfying in sad songs, as anyone who has put on a Ron Sexsmith album will confirm. And a track such as Siren Call, which leans on fiddle and cruises on Brianna's not-given-up-yet tone, taps into a small vein of optimism. But it would be fair to say this album does tend to see the cloud in every silver lining, to feel sorry more than happy, to imagine the rain just behind that blue sky. Which is perfectly fine if you are working in territory somewhere between folkish country and the rootsier end of rock (from the Iris DeMent feel of of the title track to the Lucinda Williams-touched I'm Not Learning) and especially so if you have a voice that seems made for a slightly world-weary acceptance.
This year's Tamworth Country Music Festival proved a few things - that Australians have an enduring love for country music, that buskers have an enduring love for Steve Earle's 'Copperhead Road' and that north-west New South Wales is quite a pleasant place to spend late January - if you don't mind a little bit of chaos, a little bit of twang (okay, a whole lot of twang) and more than a few dodgy cover bands. It's an epic 10 days to navigate through. But there are rewards to be had, such as discovering new talent. Enter: Melody Pool and Katie Brianna.
Melody Pool is an emerging Americana and folk singer who takes inspiration in equal parts from Ryan Adams and Joni Mitchell. Katie Brianna is a young Americana singer whose voice is so pure and gorgeous, she could be mistaken for for the long-lost daughter of Iris DeMent. Though the young women are not related, they are sisters of sorts. Both are sensitive songwriters who have release debut albums within a few months of each other. Both sing tender, heartfelt songs that could just as easily belong on records by Patty Griffin, Laura Marling or Kasey Chambers. Both have no care to make commercial country records.
Melody Pool's debut album, The Hurting Scene, was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, last September. Working with award winning producer and songwriter Jace Everett, Pool raised funds to make the album using a crowdfunding site. She says she was scared the record - which is, by the way, exceptional - would be a failure. "I was terrified. I remember when I was just about to go - the night before - I was freaking out that I wasn't going to be good enough to do this thing. I think when I got over there I just kind of thought, 'Stuff it'. I've just got to do what I do and hope that they like it."
Katie Brianna's debut album, Dark Side of the Morning, was recorded in Australia and was also crowdfunded. Katie, who at the tender age of 24 says she feels old compared to Melody's 21 years, says she wanted to wait for the right moment to record her songs. "I didn't feel like I was ready when I was younger... A lot of these songs I've actually been writing since I was about the age of sixteen. But I just didn't want to put any pressure on myself when I was at that young age."
Though both singers have a wide variety of influences, Melody Pool and Katie Brianna acknowledge that the music and career of Kasey Chambers has played a significant part in their musical coming-of-age. "She was kind of the one that got me into country music in the first place," Katie says. "My sister brought home her album [The Captain] and after I first heard her, I got my first guitar and that's how I started to get into country music through Kasey Chambers and then it had a spiralling effect."
Melody says early encouragement from Kasey Chambers, who visited her while she was recording in Tennessee, was an important way to build her confidence. "It's so important... it's so encouraging as well to know that artists see something in you... it is really important to get that support from artists that other people listen to and take notice of."
Brianna adds that without that kind of encouragement (she was mentored early on in her career by Bill Chambers), she doubts she would have been brave enough to try a career in music. "A lot of people say they don't really care what other people think. But you know, without that encouragement, without self-confidence in yourself, you need that."
Since releasing her album in January, Melody Pool has had the kind of critical acclaim that independent artists dream of, receiving multiple four star reviews, as well as an offer to support Shawn Colvin at her Sydney shows. For Katie Brianna, whose album was released independently just last month, widespread acclaim is yet to come. Though having listened almost non-stop to her album since she kindle snuck me an advance of the release last November, I would say that praise is not far off.