Kate Maki

On High

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After two albums of fairly standard issue singer/songwriter pop little noticed outside of her native Ontario, Kate Maki made a higher profile splash with 2008's far superior On High. Recorded in Arizona and produced by Howe Gelb, the lo-fi alt country wizard behind Giant Sand, On High is the sound of a talented singer/songwriter finding her artistic voice by traveling out of her comfort zone. It's not fair to say that On High is a better album than its predecessors because of Gelb's contributions, because these 11 songs don't sound much like Giant Sand, Lisa Germano, or any other artist Gelb has worked with in the past. It's more of a matter of Maki having a better sounding board than she did previously, which leads to idiosyncratic but rewarding songs like the delightful "To Please," which is built on a pre-rock Tin Pan Alley arrangement for clipped ukulele strums and clip-clopping percussion, or the brief and charming "Badminton Racquet," which features a full chorus of whistling prior to its sole verse. Either would have sounded wildly out of place on her earlier albums, but here they nestle perfectly against the late-night country-rock mood music (complete with sighing pedal steel) of "Message Forgot" and the piano-led, echoing atmospherics of the spooky "Behind the Sun." An inventive, entertaining album filled with songs that are just exactly as long as they need to be (over a third are under two minutes apiece, and the whole album is over in just about a half hour), On High is the sound of a singer/songwriter making her true debut three albums into her career.

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