Kat Edmonson was born to perform. From a young age, the Brooklyn-via-Houston singer-songwriter devoured her mother’s retro records and films, often seeing herself as a contemporary of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Strangely, her first exposure to a mass audience took place in 2002 as a contestant on Season 2 of American Idol. Although she was abruptly eliminated in the final 48 round, Edmonson would end up evolving into the most musically talented of the group – but don’t tell Ruben Studdard. As an artist, Edmonson has never ventured far away from her Billie Holiday-inspired vocals; however, on her new release, The Big Picture, she takes a bold step forward as a songwriter. Whereas her first two albums were heavy on reworked jazz standards and covers, here Kat Edmonson is credited as the writer or co-writer of 11 of the 12 tracks on the album.
Coming off the critical and commercial success of 2012’s Way Down Low, Kat Edmonson doesn’t leave her proven sound too far behind on The Big Picture, her first major label release. If anything, the move to a major label (Sony Masterworks) has enhanced her sound, as the album’s production is magnificent. Edmonson’s voice is still front and center, but the brass and rhythm sections are given the spotlight to shine on several tracks, including the standout drumming on album highlight “Avion”. Lead single “Rainy Day Woman” is driven by a jazzy upbeat chorus accentuated by the brass section. Edmonson is at her most bare and personable on “All the Way”, where her voice is accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar, providing the most intimate, stripped-down moment of the record.
Looking like she stepped out of a Jean-Luc Godard film from the 1960’s, Kat Edmonson has adapted every aspect of her image and sound from her heroes of distant yesteryear. The constant nods to her influences dominate the album and are Edmonson’s greatest strength and weakness. In an age of computer-enhanced, insincere pop music, it is a rare treasure to hear a pop singer style her vocals after the tone of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. Unfortunately, the heavy leaning on her influences leads to several songs sounding repetitive to the point that the album cannot be digested in one listening. However, for every repetitive track, like “Oh My Love”, there are plenty of memorable moments, like the saxophone solo on “You Said Enough”.
By writing her own lyrics, the listener feels closer to Edmonson than on her previous albums, where she was more of an interpreter. Edmonson’s music is a breath of fresh air in the candy-coated pop world, and it will be interesting to follow where the success of The Big Picture takes her next.