Katie Pruitt | Expectations | (Rounder)
4 out of 5 stars
Debut albums, especially those on major imprints, tend to be either under or over produced. Katie Pruitt wisely splits the difference on this striking first effort. It’s even more impressive because she co-produced it.
Pruitt’s even keel of balancing stark, introspective and extremely personal lyrics with songs that are both stripped down and embellished with ornately arranged, multi-layered instrumentation (no less than six guitarists are credited along with strings, vibraphone and backing vocals) helps make this such an immediately captivating listen. There’s a maturity and self-assurance on the appropriately titled Expectations that’s remarkable, especially for an artist’s initial release.
It’s all there, or most of it, in the opening “Wishful Thinking.” Pruitt starts the ballad with a simple, uncluttered guitar figure as she sings “I don’t believe in love dear” in a hushed, delicate voice. Gradually haunting keyboards, backing vocals, subtle drums and strings enter, leave, and reappear as the lyrics and Pruitt’s voice increase in intensity. The song closes with “You were never mine” repeated with a full confluence of instruments as she unleashes a voice every bit as powerful and passionate as that of Brandi Carlile. It’s a perfect inauguration to Pruitt’s multi-talented persona. She handles her vocal firepower delicately throughout these ten songs, untethering it often for just a sentence at a time as she comes to the realization in “My Mind’s a Ship (That’s Going Down)” that “Love’s the only thing that matters anyhow.”
Anyone looking for an obvious single can stop with the title track where Pruitt takes Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” rhythm underpinning and sings “I wasn’t getting much out of life at all/I was scared to jump ‘cause I was scared to fall.” She’s open about her sexuality in the almost wincingly personal “Normal,” a potent recap of her gradual understanding that “If I could be normal/then trust me I would” sung with a bittersweet, reserved lilt that questions, then comes to an understanding of, where she fits in.
Musically Pruitt carefully balances on a folk, pop and singer/songwriter tightrope with tunes that wrap her words around melodies which hover, float and sometimes sting. On “Grace Has a Gun” the concept of mental illness is explored and “Searching for the Truth” is as close as she comes to a political statement with the words “Keep searching for the truth in a world that’s always lying.”
At the end of ten tracks and just over 45 minutes you not only have a reasonable understanding of who newcomer Katie Pruitt is as a person, but know that this near flawless introduction is the auspicious start of a career that shows incredible promise.