Spotting Kaoruko Pilkington's cover of Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life on her Bright Side of my Life was rather a surprise. It's certainly not unheard that singers tackle instrumentals, oft supplying way-hip lyrics in the process, but this, I found when I tossed the disc in the player, wasn't that. Instead, Kaoruko was scatting the gig in a cool Braziliana version of Pat's fusion jazzprog, cut within the denouement and transition of his Chataugua period. Her interpretation and his work interweave nicely, and one would not be surprised to hear Basia handle it in same fashion. The inflections she chose, though, go beyond vocalese and into alternate instrumentation, frequently like a sax, trombone, and trumpet, a sheen of brass atop many laryngeal notes and passages.
Her version of By The Time I Get To Phoenix, however, is the most naked exposition of her work's pluses and minuses, and there are plenty of both. The famous Jimmy Webb song has been covered many times, most tellingly by Glen Campbell, and is a gem of MOR music that can't be as lightly regarded as may first seem. In it, Pilkington frames what may be her most unusual trait: a housewifey girl-next-door voice and approach that calls to mind Kim Novak from, say, Bell, Book, and Candle or Elizabeth Montgomery from the TV Bewitched series: saucy, knowing, urbane, out of place, undecided, and just this side of minxy. Those contrasts and conflictions make for a series of jumbles in Phoenix and throughout all of Bright Side rather than the audience-expected dissociated harmonies being reached for.
On the other hand, there are many passages that ring clear as crystal, and the singer possesses a trilling vibrato that's interesting and fetching, though too many other notes go flat, seem as though made of cardboard, thus poor brethren to the crafted measures. Not a song goes by that isn't guilty of that, though Metheny's cut is the purest of the lot. This relegates the album to the category of 'talented amateur' when it shouldn't. It's been 14 years between Pilkington's debut and this, and I suspect the reason for that gap is that she likely knows she needs a really good disciplinarian, as a producer, not herself. There exists a big potential here but not if Koaruko maintains an inartistic estate of indulgence and injudicious disregard of the iron-clad staples that compose even this breezy a slice of art. The same can be said of the instrumentation, so she's not alone in that.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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