The sap in me is in full support of Kennedy Shaw’s romantic, nostalgic-for-a-time-never-felt album Girl Almighty.
I was struck immediately: first, by the strength in her voice. This magical freedom of vulnerability, backed by an urgent vibrato. Second: a piano ballad? Is this not 2019?
In the community of crowded basement shows that Philly has become so emblematic of, soaring songs from the heart banged out on a grand piano is not what we expect to see at a show. Our red wine too often arrives in a bag. Yet, it feels right. Kennedy Shaw is not necessarily telling my story, with its twists and turns, but she is validating all of the times my heart has overflowed with yearning.
The album kicks off with strength: “Foolery” is a sing-song tune, carefully enunciated, with vocal dynamics galore. The full band comes in for the chorus, and Shaw flies into a cycle of vocal flair. She’s been working at this craft for a while – no doubt about it.
Most of the album is piano ballads – they’ve never been much my thing. While some people were all about Regina Spektor, for example, I only craved the guy-heavy indie rock that was played on my local Alternative station. I’ve grown and my musical taste has been cracked open by things like marijuana and heartbreak, but it’s still difficult to sit through solo piano songs back-to-back. This is the weakest aspect of the album – it’s not weighted equally. “Foolery” and “Psycho” kick off the selection with massive energy and spunk. “Psycho” actually stands out completely as the only fuzz-soaked, upbeat rock song on Girl Almighty, and it’s an awesome song, but feels a little out of place paired with the rest of the album.
Shaw descends into a 4-track valley of feelings to be wallowed in, from “I Can’t Swim,” to “Aaa.” It’s a little tough to get through if you’re not wallowing in there with her, but the sentiments in both those tracks in particular resonate with my overly-emotional soul. I’m grateful, ultimately, for the validation Shaw is offering: “It’d be nice to feel less alone.”
There are times on the album when a full band is hinted at, which creates a build-up that is never truly relieved. They sound waltzy and evocative on “Art School Anthem,” with the warm organ and the vamping strong enough to cry to. I just wish the lineup (and production, for that matter) would stay more consistent. I don’t think any artist actually owes that to an audience, but in this case, I think a deeper exploration into sonic consistency would be helpful in making the record even more memorable.
I would mark this album as pretty notable in the young Philly scene. Girls in the music world are so often confused as to whether people want to hear about the feelings we’re stereotyped to have, or to provide apathetic generalizations of a ghosting experience that actually really fucking sucked. Kennedy Shaw takes back the melodrama and doesn’t care about elegance. She is naturally careful and skilled enough to know how to voice her emotional depth. I don’t love every song on the album. What I do love is her energy and her honesty. She may not know exactly who she is yet – but she knows how to put herself out there. As she unabashedly proclaims in “I Can’t Swim,” “Yes, I know I’m dramatic.” And that’s badass. Almighty, even.
- Strong, reliable songwriting skills
- Piano ballads galore to feed your romantic side
- Slight mixing inconsistencies
- Too many piano ballads (for some), not enough full band
- You might get lost in your feelings