Katherine Penfold's Journals came recommended to me by her guitarist, a guy I've known for almost 30 years. I don't often hear from him, but when I do I make a point of listening. His ear is attuned not just to the “wow” factor, but to depth as well. And Katherine Penfold has both, in spades.
Penfold's métier is pop, as the CD cover for “Journals” evinces: she's pictured leafing through milk-crates of vinyl, while the sleeves of unnamed crooners lie on the floor beside her. She smiles, and seems ready to stand up and move. This is her aural moment, and she grasps it with confidence and aplomb.
Journals pointedly hearkens back to modes that are familiar and easy on the ear, and although its production isn't credited* I was wowed not just by its surface sheen but by the manifold layers beneath it. But it is Penfold's voice that takes command: she shifts easily from the misted-asphalt stylings of Avril Lavigne to the deep R&B of Lisa Stansfield, using emotional heft, vulnerability and a sense of play to hook and hold the listener from beginning to end. This album doesn't just go down easily, it stirs corners of the heart I thought were the exclusive province of a younger man.
The curious are encouraged to start with “Ain't No Good” and “What A Heart” (married tracks on the disc), then follow that up with the sassy “Please Forgive Me.” But really, if you're already at iTunes it's worth your nickel to hit “Download Album,” just to give the girl some incentive to get her next collection together. If Journals is any indication, Penfold's considerable range as a singer has only begun to be explored. Available at Katherine's website, and iTunes.
*Juno Award winner Jordan Jackiew engineered, produced, mixed and mastered — and played the keys for — Journals, I am told.
And since I'm already dishing on pop confections: be sure to check out Jesse Palter & The Alter Ego's “Limited Edition EP” (at their website or iTunes). Palter is a remarked-upon performer in the Detroit/NYC/Chicago jazz scene, shifting gears (for the moment?) to ride Sam Barsh's sensibility of what pop ought to sound like. Jim DeRogatis says, “Lady Gaga, watch out!” but I'm reminded of a younger Mary Margaret O'Hare — which (if you don't know it) is very high praise.