‘All of the Fallen Stars' by Kenzie Webley
Fans of Kenzie Webley will, I am sure, have been aware for many months that she has been working on her debut album at 14 Records in Leamington: I mentioned it as far back as last October in the magazine.
Impatient as they no doubt have been to hear it (I speak for myself too), they probably realise that although the songs themselves have long been composed, the recording process has been delayed somewhat: Kenzie now of course is away at university for much of the year & then at the end of last year, THAT infection robbed her of her singing voice when the vocals were due to be laid down.
Thankfully now ‘All of the Fallen Stars' is ready for release now & I can reveal that it's been totally worth the wait. You can get one of the very Limited Edition (only 50!) hard copies by contacting Kenzie directly (https://www.facebook.com/kenziewebleymusic/) and the digital release will follow shortly.
In many ways, the steady development of the record reflects Kenzie's general approach to her craft: taking time to get things absolutely right & not letting imperfections sneak in through rushing.
Starting with her self produced "Nicotine Kisses" track which, once shared with the world, laid down a marker of what she was capable of, Kenzie soon switched to professional recording & has released a string of really well received singles: "Crooked Hearts", "Head v Heart", "Make You Stay", "Loveable" and most recently "The Lucky One", each given time to sink into our collective consciousness and make its own impact. If you put the "quality or quantity?" question to Kenzie, my money would favour her going for the former.
The album collects these earlier triumphs together and adds five new tracks (I gather these comprise her first ten compositions, though possibly she may not be counting "Nicotine Kisses", unless that one is one of the "next ten" bound for the follow up she is already planning). In fact the overwhelming sense of an artist who knows precisely what she is doing is reinforced by the fact that the album title has been decided in her head from the off.
In addition, I'd suggest that further evidence of this careful & perfectionist approach is the themes of the songs: yes Kenzie clearly wanted us to listen to them intently but that's partly because she does not shy away from "difficult" ideas: as my reviews of the singles repeatedly mention. None can have been easy to write considering the sensitivities involved, but the effort & care have been rewarded many fold.
Anyone who can write songs about depression, mental health, self harm, self pity, personal responsibility & romantic angst sensitively enough not to make light of the subject matter, yet set them in melodic & often jaunty pop settings, often belying their subject matter, is no slouch as a composer.
And that's really what ‘All of the Fallen Stars' is all about. This is a really empathetic writer who senses what others are going through & can reflect just as easily upon her own journey and emotions, yet on top of this far from common set of skills, can also see issues from varying perspectives & articulate them all in easily accessible song forms. There is nothing terribly waspish on view, but a considerable quantity of compassion, even when she understandably confesses she doesn't have the answers.
The title, as I said, is clearly central to this piece of work & maybe its meaning is sufficiently personal to Kenzie that we ought not probe too deeply (well that's been my approach). However as a reviewer, I'm prepared to speculate that in every song, there might be a character to see as a "fallen star" in some respect.
Kenzie can write jolly jaunty tunes as I've already told you, but nevertheless she has a great capacity for weaving melancholy & wistfulness throughout her songs (and these qualities, while adding pathos in its correct meaning, do not equate to weakness of resolve). This tends to give the impression of some of her characters being analogous to those in classical myths: doomed & tossed about by fate, yet if that is the case, it tends to add to the sense of compassion on display.
And so from the general to the specific. Leaving aside the previously reviewed single releases (though producer Matt Waddell at 14 Records has ensured that you don't just get what you've already paid for by offering new remixes), the tracks which debut here are called "Palinode", "The Fall", "Happier", "In A Mess" and "One Night".
Each, as you've come to expect, demonstrates Kenzie's ability to make a song which, on close inspection, must have taken a great deal of care & sweat, yet still sounds spontaneous.
"Palinode" is superb: exquisitely arranged and produced to squeeze the maximum out of the composition & performance, Kenzie seems in top form in terms of confidence in her own singing and produces many nuanced moments within it. Timeless, seemingly outside of contemporary genre classifications (though there are tiny country hints), it would make an ideal single in my opinion. The title suggests that she is explicitly changing her mind about something she had written in a previous song: now there's a challenge for us listeners to work that one out…
"The Fall" fits well with it: yes, I'm going to say it's single material too. Even more upbeat than "Palinode", this track has a fuller arrangement to contrast with the more intimate ones on the album. Check this one out if you'd like to hear Kenzie really swing.
"Happier" bops along in a refreshing manner (and one can detect the hand of Gemma Waddell in the vocal harmonies I think), but in one of those instances I relish in songwriting, the lyrics work in contrast to the musical tone, creating a memorable tension: and please remember what I said earlier about the thread running through the album: these cheery sounding new songs contain their fallen angel quotas.
"In A Mess" (which you may have heard already played on the BBC) takes us back to what we might think of prime Kenzie Webley (to date): a string & piano led ballad: classical & classy with her voice placed high in the mix: thank goodness she waited until it was ready for the recording. You probably won't need too many guesses as to the lyrical content given the title.
Finally, "One Night" is yet another addition to the Kenzie lexicon: a most agreeable piece of jangle pop whose fallen angel was involved in (you guessed it) a one night stand. And yes, it would make an excellent single…..
There's all that compassion & good will, even when many of us might lose our rag & admit defeat, yet despite these very strong threads of commonality, each track has a very distinct identity.
I occasionally muse in my reviews at how so many artists whom I write about nowadays seem to concentrate on singles or EPs at the expense of full albums. There are so many good reasons for doing it including economics and I think every track on a single/EP gets better attention than some on albums do: and certainly more airplay/streaming. Partly that was due often in the past for some artists , to the difficulty of sustaining quality & diversity across so many songs: one necessarily got relative "filler": perhaps the biggest trap for an artist contemplating an album. There is no filler on ‘All of the Fallen Stars' and that's a fact. Partly due I imagine to having previewed half the tracks in their own right as singles, it also shows Kenzie's diligence & attention to detail. You cannot imagine her allowing a lesser quality track to be issued.
Inevitably, you may find yourself gravitating towards certain tracks (we probably all do) and there must be an argument that in times of alleged decline in attention spans, an entire album is hard to get our heads round. But please do take the time to do this with ‘All of the Fallen Stars' as it will reward you. The songs you hadn't heard before are at the very least as good as the previous releases and frankly there are probably ten potential singles on it.
There is simply so much to write about here on each playing I hear more & my desire to complete a review of readable length alone holds me back a bit. I'm really enjoying playing it over & again.
I could though mention (and I should) the humour which crops up repeatedly as a counterpoint to any melancholy & offers barbs in the lyrics.
My own opinion is that (assuming the single recordings predate the others), Kenzie's singing just gets more & more confident as her career progresses. In an area absolutely blessed with so many wonderful female singers at the moment, as they all sound utterly distinctive (thank goodness), she brings a particular warmth & humanity to her technical skills. Similarly, against the wider backdrop of so many great writers at the moment (aren't we blessed?), Kenzie Webley has her own unique slant, balancing compassion, empathy, pity & optimism.
Have you noticed that not once in this review have I compared her directly to any other artist? That's because I can't.
Can't wait for the follow up.
"The Lucky One" by Kenzie Webley
For those of you who were wondering about the activities of that rapidly rising local star Kenzie Webley, I am able to bring you up to speed.
I think she originally had quite a summer anticipated: with the possibility of more live performance activities and with the completion of her debut album. However I'm sorry to say that not only did COVID19 make these more difficult as they did for everyone else by squeezing opportunities & constraining artists, it also hit her directly, with recovering her vocal capacity making both gigging and recording difficult.
Things are looking up now though for Kenzie (she has also just commenced her university studies which will be yet another factor for her to juggle) and while the album is delayed rather than anything worse, at least she has the option of being able to share an already recorded track "The Lucky One" as a single so that we are not deprived of her talents in the interim and which is out on the first of October.
Created like her other music and the forthcoming album at Leamington's 14 Records with Matt Waddell producing (and playing all the instruments bar Kenzie's own guitar) and Gemma Waddell designing the backing vocal arrangements, "The Lucky One" was actually originally composed when Kenzie was only fifteen (that is to say three years ago). It's a testament to how mature and fully formed she was as a writer when she first burst onto the scene that what for most writers might be categorised as juvenilia, where the ideas are relatively callow given the lack of experience with the world & hence not really be in the frame for later release, this does not apply here.
Essentially a tale of lost love, instead of bemoaning the loss, the song takes the line that the writer feels they were lucky to have had that person in their lives: a very positive spin which certainly seems helpful in the process of moving on without damaging regrets. Nevertheless she is not kidding herself nor us: she really wouldn't mind being lucky enough to tick all the boxes for the relationship to persist or resume.
Consequently the track itself is an interesting set of complexities: there is as you might imagine a certain melancholy, there is equally a rather jaunty feel to it. This really is a key to understanding why Kenzie is respected in the way she is: her songs are not unusually long (though this one is four and a half minutes) nor are they structured in a way which makes them inaccessible to any listener. You can listen to "The Lucky One" and enjoy it as an agreeable, melodic piece without necessarily noticing what it is which holds your attention: these subtle combinations and shifts of tone, internal paradoxes, and between them Kenzie, Matt & Gemma have woven an arrangement which is ever changing: no passage of the song repeats itself exactly in terms of tempo, instrumentation nor vocal performance. It's little things like these which, though presumably not what most people would consciously notice (and I have to say, I feel somewhat guilty as a reviewer of tending to pick tracks apart to see how they work when all the artist wants is for us to enjoy the finished product), nevertheless not only mark out a mature and sophisticated approach to writing but also create songs which impact our subconscious as much as our conscious mind. This is a track with a lot packed into it, which however pulls off the not insubstantial trick of sounding fresh, simple & above all, uncontrived.
The good news is that bar some final vocal parts, necessarily delayed until her voice has recovered, the album is close to completion. Sources from within 14 Records have expressed disappointment that the end of the process is nigh, so much have they enjoyed working with Kenzie. I think I speak for many on the local scene by saying that we have expectations of similar heights of pleasure when we hear the new collection. This is an artist who many people (myself included) think is going a long way. She also tells me that her hope is that around Christmas, with her voice back in fighting fettle and on her return from university, she'll be setting up gigs in the area. I hope to see some of you there.
"Loveable" by Kenzie Webley
I'm delighted to report to you the release of a new single by Kenzie Webley on 21st May, namely "Loveable" .
As you know, Kenzie is one the most exciting talents currently emerging on the Coventry & Warwickshire music scene, as evidenced by the reactions of fans, critics and the media. It's unfortunate that her live momentum has been slowed down by recent circumstances, but given her current studies, maybe she has been spared having agonies of time prioritisation & since it has clearly not affected her writing, I believe the future is as encouraging for her as it was a year ago.
A follow up to the really well received "Make You Stay" (still at the top of the local charts as I write), "Loveable" was likewise recorded with Matt Waddell at 14 Records in Leamington. Equally likewise, the new song is a great example of Kenzie's ability to write incisive & sympathetic lyrics about deep & challenging emotional situations but from perspectives which are significantly different to those of the majority of songs about such matters.
Sounding markedly different from its predecessor with an attractive folk tinged swing which adds a rather neat contrast to some of the sentiments in the words (I always admire artists who pull off setting lyrical tone against musical: the effect serves well to emphasise the former), Kenzie sets out in the admirable if challenging task of de-romanticising the real factors in a relationship which may be heading for the rocks. Her argument is that songs often "…romanticise break-ups and focus on a primary feeling of self pity, however this song tells a story of a couple who are in an argument, but from the perspective of someone is acknowledging their own flaws and, to some extent, taking responsibility". For any writer to realise the tendency of popular music to fall into emotional clichés and seek to offer alternative interpretations is commendable: for an artist as young as Kenzie with relatively less experience and opportunities to observe situations (the song is in fact inspired by the experiences of a friend), it's trebly so. It's difficult to see how an artist of her age who is currently writing with such insight & sensitivity cannot keep on continuing to grow & succeed artistically & thence we can hope commercially.
As I say, not only is the subject matter worthy of praise, let's not overlook that all the best lyrics in the world will under impact unless set to music which helps them to engage. With Matt's help, what you get is an arrangement of exquisite balance: lots of interesting details to offer new parts to focus on for each play yet not remotely dense: the lightness & sureness of touch in fact permitting Kenzie to perform with a delicacy worthy of the story & not having to fight to be heard over too many other instruments at once. That said, I suppose it does beg the question of how a live version could duplicate the recorded without a small chamber orchestra on stage with her, but my feelings are that it will be effective with a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment.
This is an excellent single which I commend to you: I'm sure you'll be hearing it plenty of times over the airwaves in the coming weeks. Check out the cover art too: not only by Kenzie herself but it alludes very directly to the story in the song .
"Make You Stay" by Kenzie Webley
When I interviewed Kenzie Webley the other week for the feature in the magazine, she was busy at 14 Records laying down some brand new tracks for us. Little did I realise that so soon afterwards I should be reviewing one of them, namely her new single "Make You Stay" (which is released on Boxing Day). This really is fresh music & hats off to Kenzie & Matt and Gemma for getting it ready for us so swiftly.
The song was of course produced by Matt Waddell & Kenzie wrote the track, provides all vocals & piano. The other instruments are courtesy of Matt and Gemma helped with the harmonic arrangement.
Ironically, despite its extreme freshness, the song itself has its roots three years ago (when Kenzie was fourteen) and written originally at that time in response to a real incident in her life. That said, I think it was wise to let the song (presumably) evolve over the intervening years. Not only does this allow Kenzie to bring extra experience to what is a complex & profound subject, but it also enables her to apply a perspective to it: and I'm sure the song is all the better for this sensible approach.
The subject is the sensitive one of mental health and "was actually written three Christmases ago after I received a call from a friend in the middle of the night." At this point I think Kenzie's words are far more effective at expressing her feelings than any attempt of mine to précis them could be (and exactly the same applies to the feature from the other week: so articulate & thoughtful were her responses to my questions that I barely edited them for publication). "It's about trying to be supportive to somebody with mental health issues but feeling like you don't have all of the answers. As the song says I was only 14 for god's sake! In the circumstances we find ourselves today there are more and more people suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts and countless more who are affected by being close to someone who is in that predicament. I hope this song resonates with people and if anybody finds themself in the position I was in I hope, like I did, they reach out to somebody who is better qualified to provide the support that their friend or loved one's needs."
At this point, at the risk of boring regular readers, I'd like to return to a theme I have raised before: we are currently blessed with so many wonderful & original writers (and performers) in Coventry & Warwickshire: one aspect of this is that they seem unafraid of writing in their own voices, without feeling the need to emulate others, but another is that they simply do not shy away from writing about "difficult" issues such as these: often exposing their own deepest thoughts & vulnerabilities to us. There are so many of these at the moment (one imagines there is an element of mutual inspiration amongst them all, even though they are not copying each other). The list is too long to fully share (however the specific feature with Naomi Beth on mental health issues at the start of the pandemic is perhaps one worth citing), but clearly Kenzie is very much at the forefront of this newish movement of writing songs with complete honesty yet which are also fine songs in every other conventional aspect: including being attractive to the listener.
Because "Make You Stay", have no doubts, is a very fine song. Like many (if not all) those I've mentioned, Kenzie & Matt have decided to reflect the truthfulness in the song by admirable restraint in the arrangement and production: too much of either & we'd be less inclined to focus on the words & message. Essentially built over her own gentle piano playing, it's Kenzie's voice we notice the most & she has a voice which has the confidence & qualities to thrive without the need for a big production. Warm & sympathetic, it shows as much empathy as it does concern: let's face it, this is a song wherein an adolescent attempts to pull a friend back from the brink of self harm without the life experience to easily do this nor even being there to comfort in person. What a task. In the end, the love & wisdom imparted is a pretty decent shot at it & although the lyrics make it abundantly clear that this relates to a specific incident, I think, like all well written songs, it can apply to other people & other situations.
This story is central & one naturally focuses in upon it. Nevertheless, despite the (apparent) simplicity of the arrangement, there are many neat & subtle elements in there which keep variation going in the accompaniment to the narrative: tasteful string sounds in particular & shifts in dynamics so that the emotional tone rises & falls during its course.
It is easy to compliment Kenzie's technical talents in terms of her writing , vocal & instrumental performances, but I think what elevates an artist like this in my mind are the "bigger picture" elements such as how she has tackled the subject matter so well and above all to have the confidence to release such a song on Boxing Day. In a world where a poor reviewer has to deal with songs about sleigh bells etc at this time of year, to be able to review a song which reminds us that depression is something more people experience over Christmas than they do reindeer is if not a delight, certainly is something which makes me much more hopeful for the future. And if the rest of her album is this good, I can't wait for 2021.
Spotlight on Kenzie Webley
In my interview with Roddy "Radiation" Byers of The Specials etc earlier in the week, I observed how the pandemic has cut a swathe through the music scene, both locally & globally affecting both internationally known artists like Roddy & those whose fame is at this point more local. After talking with someone from the former category, it was great to catch up with one of our fastest emerging musicians from Warwickshire (and one of the most popular already judging by her sustained presence at the top of the HillzFM chart with "Head v Heart" and previously her bedroom demo "Nicotine Kisses") , Kenzie Webley yesterday during her latest recording session at 14 Records (and of course I featured Matt & Gemma from that company in July, looking at how they were adapting to current circumstances). Naturally our chat was carried out with appropriate social distancing.
Firstly, could you let our readers know a little bit about yourself please?
"I'm 17, I am studying Chemistry, Psychology and Drama at A Level. I've just submitted my application to university but, in the circumstances, am considering taking a year out to focus on my music."
Secondly how did you get started in your musical career?
"When I was growing up we always had music playing in the house, in fact I'm pretty sure we had music playing on YouTube more than the TV. I was learning keyboard from the age of 5 and I had taught myself guitar by the age of 11. By 13 I had written my first song, and pretty soon after that I started busking, which eventually led to other small paid gigs. I've always loved performing so I've been going to Stagecoach since I was 9 and that really showed me how much I love to be onstage singing and even got me into a role in 'Babes in the Wood' at the Priory Theatre in Kenilworth last Christmas, which is how I met the lovely Paul Sanders who was a DJ with Hillz FM at the time. He heard my original music and encouraged me to submit one of my songs to the local chart, which at this point was just a bedroom demo of a song called "Nicotine Kisses". After that Paul put me in touch with 14 Records and I went into the studio to record my first official single "Crooked Hearts" which was named Tune of the Week on BBC Introducing CWR, and since then it's all just continued to grow."
What influences on your music can you identify please?
"I have been told on more than one occasion that my music is reminiscent of Imogen Heap, which is clearly a subconscious influence given that my family love her, and I take that as a massive compliment. In songwriting I think my earliest influences were Jason Mraz and an Australian singer-songwriter called Missy Higgins because they got played a lot in our house and are both such talented writers so they really grew my love for lyricism. Also my Dad got me into Ed Sheeran really early on in his career, when he was touring his ‘Loose Change' album before he signed with a major label and went through the roof. More recently I have loved the music of Cavetown and Dodie, and whether these influences can be directly heard in my more recent songs or not, I'm not quite sure, but I know that they inspired me heavily to keep writing music, and the tone in which I write my lyrics. Somewhere in between I also went through an Oasis obsession, and I think that style of music comes through in some of my earlier songs."
What can you tell us at this point about any planned record releases?
"I have been trying to get my first album recorded, although this has been hindered a lot by the situation the world finds itself in currently. I have been back in the recording studio recently recording new tracks to come out soon, the next song coming out is hopefully going to be a song called "Make You Stay" which I am really excited for people to hear. While it is tonally quite different from the music I have released so far, it is a piece that I really poured my heart and soul into when writing, and I really believe it has an important message about mental health issues which I hope I can communicate to my listeners, and I feel even while this is a song I wrote 3 years ago, the themes are particularly relevant in today's climate."
Dare I ask if you have any gigs planned?
"I'm hoping I will have some online charity gigs to be involved in as and when they arise, such as the Education Saves Lives fundraiser that I participated in recently. I will be performing some live Christmas music as a part of my local village's festivities. I'm not quite sure what that entails yet and how it will work but it is definitely something to look forward to. As I am sure all musicians are at this time, I am looking forward to gigging again once the world is back to ‘normal'."
What would you like your audiences to take away with them when they hear your songs?
"This is a hard question. I hope they take away whatever they need to from the song. Songwriting for me is an outlet for my emotions, thoughts and worries and when listening to my album, each song is like a snapshot of my life at a particular point in time. But, just because a song has such a specific meaning to me, that doesn't mean everyone is going to listen to it and hear the same thing, so I hope that, when someone listens to my songs, they can take away whatever meaning resonates most with them. A song's meaning to me is whatever you place onto it, whatever it says that speaks to you; I think that's the beauty of music."
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about how local music emerges from the pandemic?
"I'm definitely optimistic. Don't get me wrong, I feel nervous about what it means for everyone and it is such a difficult time, especially for musicians who need this to put bread on the table, but I think in the peak of the pandemic our local music community really came together- performing online festivals and creating playlists with our music. I think we are lucky that this love for music unites us in a time where everyone and everything is so divided. And, of course, we can't forget that this whole situation is great songwriting inspiration, and I think us musicians can make the most of that, and I think everyone is ready to support each other once gigs can go ahead again."
Which other local musicians would you recommend to the readers of "Hot Music Live?
"I think Hannah Woof has to get a mention. She made it into my Spotify 2020 top artists, which was of no great surprise to me considering how much I love her music. Abz Winter is also insanely talented and I think she's going to have an amazing music career ahead of her."
If you had the chance to collaborate with any (living) musician, whom would you name?
"There's too many! Right now, I would probably say Dodie, because I think she has such beautiful meaning in her songs and our styles complement each other nicely. I also always sing harmonies along while listening to her songs, so I guess you could say I'm halfway here haha."