Click to hear: “Things That I Like”
Katrina Abramo first caught my ear with “Days Go By” and “Bed Full of Sand,” her two contributions to the Cat & Mouse Records 2006 Artist Compilation. They’re two of the best songs on an album full of good songs.
Having established herself in the Portland music scene over the past few years, both as a solo performer and as a member of Subject Bias (bass and backing vocals), Abramo is poised to take her game to another level. Katrina Abramo is a short, eight-song album (or long EP) marked by confident singing and songwriting talent that belies the artist’s youth.
“Days Go By” and “Bed Full of Sand” stand out on this release, too. “Days Go By” instantly calls to mind the breathy stylings of Sarah McLachlan, as do the songs immediately preceding and following it, “Barely Here” and “Drive.”
However, listeners expecting an album’s worth of these hushed ballads will be in for a surprise with “Bed Full of Sand.” This track quickly opens up into an acoustic-pop gem, full of surprising texture and color, with inventive flashes of percussion, strong lyrics, and muted trumpet cleverly stopping and starting throughout. This welcome variation in tempo kicks the album into another gear. Pop radio would be much more bearable if songs like this made the playlists.
Frank Hopkins, Abramo’s labelmate and former bandmate with Subject Bias, produced Katrina Abramo, and his contribution to the album’s sound is remarkable. His touches are up front and consistent, serving to elevate the music without ever becoming a distraction. Likewise, the players on these sessions – Matt Hansen (bass), Joe Gouzie (drums), Anna Marie Amoroso (violin) and Hopkins himself (piano, electric guitar, lap steel, trumpet, djembe) – provide remarkably empathetic flourishes to Abramo’s songs. But there is never any doubt whose album this is, and the players shine without overshadowing the singer.
“Catch a Star” introduces the aforementioned violin to the mix, and serves to settle the album into a short, dreamy interlude. The next track is the album’s peak.
“Things That I Like” is, simply put, just what I’d been hoping to find on this CD. It shows Abramo at her most versatile, and features some of the best songwriting on the album: “I don’t want you to die / Come back in the spring / I will be waiting / Right now words aren’t my thing / I’ll tell you the truth / As plain as I can / I don’t like losing things / Things that I like / Again and again.” It’s a fantastic song, with wonderful touches of lap steel and fiddle (bowed and plucked) under Abramo’s beautiful vocals.
Following “Things I Like,” the album closes with two well-crafted slow songs. One is “What I’ve Been Missing,” an acoustic guitar–centered tune with very tasteful drums. The other is “Song for a Sad Girl,” a piano-driven piece that opens with Abramo singing, “Up and around for a while / Twenty-one years now and I’ve seen a thing or two / Yeah, I’ve been down, too / Been down the well he threw himself into / But all I ever saw was good in you.”
Twenty-one years? Wow.
— Tom Flynn
Katrina Abramo performs Sat., April 28, at North Star Café, 225 Congress St., Portland, at 8 p.m. 699-2994. For more, visit katrinaabramo.com.