Kaia Kater: Nine Pin

It’s hard to believe that Kaia Kater is still only 22 years old because her new album Nine Pin shows a musical maturity way beyond her years. The Quebec-born Toronto-based singer and banjo player graduates this month from a course of studies in Appalachian music and culture at West Virginia’s Davis & Elkins College. Her first album Sorrow Bound was reviewed here last year and was a more-than-promising debut but Nine Pin is even better.

Kater describes herself as an eclectic traditionalist and she has an original way with roots music which is gaining her a lot of attention as one of the brightest young talents in North American folk music. The new album is largely a mix of her songwriting and interpretations of traditional songs. And we can’t see the join as her songs (plus a couple of instrumentals and three brief musical interludes) cut across boundaries to create a world at once rooted in time and place but somehow universal too.

kaia kater

The album shows influences from both Canada and West Virginia and some of the writing touches on racial issues: Kater herself is of mixed Afro-Caribbean descent. The songs explore what she says are “elements of joy and darkness and the expanding space in between”. Most begin quietly with just voice and banjo and then open up to let in other instruments such as trumpet, baritone guitar, five-string fiddle, moog and bass. Sometimes this creates a jazzy feel as on the opening ‘Saint Elizabeth’, while ‘Little Pink’ hints at the blues.

The standout tracks are ‘Paradise Fell’ and ‘Nine Pin’, both very tastefully understated and atmospheric. In fact, the whole album is rather low key and the supporting musicians are there to serve the songs by adding just the right amount of lush colour. ‘Petit Chagrin’ is the sole French language song while ‘White’ is Kater’s version of the old song ‘Long Time Travelling’. The sedate pace of the album is enlivened by two fiddle and banjo instrumentals ‘Fine Times at Our House’ and ‘Hangman’s Reel’.

Kaia Kater can be rightly proud of Nine Pin as her finest achievement to date. With talent like this it’s almost frightening to contemplate what she will do next. Best of all is that these songs and musical traditions are being kept alive and built upon by such fine young singers and musicians.

Nine Pin is released on 13th May by Kingswood Records.


Kaia Kater plays banjo and dances in this video of ‘Fine Times at Our House’, one of the tracks from the album:


Explore posts in the same categories: Roots Music from Out There

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