Four albums in, guitarist and songwriter Kaki King is pulling another switch-up. At 28, she's already assembled a formidable body of work, with each recording sounding different than the last, all the while keeping an instantly identifiable sound. This time out she's working with veteran producer/engineer Malcolm Burn (Chris Whitley, Patti Smith, Lisa Germano, Charlie Sexton, Blue Rodeo, Iggy Pop) behind the boards. King mixes up her attack with seven instrumentals and seven vocal cuts. She plays guitars (including pedal steel), keyboards, and drums, with a small host of collaborators. The sound is warm and full here; there is a sense of detachment that her previous recordings don't have -- which is part Burn's trademark sound that he developed while working with Daniel Lanois and part her increasing familiarity with a recording studio. The instrumental cuts work best, of course, since King's voice is limited in its range, scope, and ability to express the considerable emotional content of her songs. Here too, however, there is improvement, where she doesn't feel the need to project her vocal so far above the instrumental mix. Still, as a lyricist, no matter how direct she gets, there is a sense of clumsiness and lyric-as-afterthought in tracks that have some real weight, like "Life Being What It Is" and "Saving Days in a Frozen Head." The album's final cut, "2 O'Clock," which details the aftermath of a broken relationship, works best because its words, while simple and delicate, carry more weight than the rest of the vocal offerings here. In fact, for all of its skeletal sparseness, it packs a wallop. On the opposite bookend, King's opener, "Bone Chaos in the Castle," is one of the coolest looped-out prog rock guitar tunes in recent memory. Her trademark finger-hammer style of acoustic playing becomes the main part of the rhythm section, while skittering programmed drums and snares, a bassline, and keyboards create the atmosphere as she winds out a simple melody in lead lines that sting despite having the ends rounded off. The mysteriously ambiguous "Sad American" feels more like a demo than a finished tune, but as such, it works. It's almost an interlude to introduce the pumped-up indie rock that is "Pull Me Out Alive." Here she accompanies herself with a staggered vocal line, half a beat behind the front one repeating around her verses. The refrain is a big washy, drifty kind of thing where she gets to the top of her range, guitar lines slip in and out, and drums appear on top of one another -- always a popping snare -- and then just as quickly drop out. "Air and Kilometers" is the most interesting cut here. King uses a digital delay, her acoustic, a steel guitar, and a string quartet to achieve her objective. They paint such an elusive, mercurial backdrop that despite the shimmering appearance of King's layered guitars, it's solid. This is not a remarkable album by any stretch, although its packaging is -- it contains a punch-out mobile as a booklet -- but it is a further step in the development of a singular and ever elusive artist who possesses a truckload of talent, but is still unsure of which direction to head to realize it all.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek