Katy Vernon: England’s loss is Minnesota’s gain


Singer-songwriter Katy Vernon is, to say the least, an interesting talent. Quite remarkably fresh blood. I missed out on her October 27 release show for Before I Forget in St. Paul at Wild Tymes on their Palace Stage showcase, but am reasonably confident a good time was had by all on hand. This is Vernon’s first solo album and, if she follows up with equally strong recordings, it certainly won’t be her last. Even in this day and age of the tight buck, this is an artist of sure marketability.

Before I Forget is produced by Kevin Steinman with Terry Isaachsen and Clay Williams on guitar, Kirk Hall on drums, Brad Konkel on acoustic bass, Paul Odegard on trumpet, and Jillian Rae on the fiddle. As well, there’s The Meteor Boys on ukulele and Dan Isreal, who opened October 27, blowing harp.

The material has a warm, laid-back sound to it, bluegrass roots polished to a brisk turn, ready to rock the pop charts. It’s the sort of incredibly sensual stuff the Dixie Chicks did with Wide Open Spaces. Not that she’s the same. Katy Vernon has done something it’s not easy to do: sustain country roots, go pop, and be distinctly original at the same time.

It’s hard to pick out one tune over another, because they’re all what we used to call a-sides. For the hell of it, though, take “Wasting Time.” A bright, smartly rolling good-time jaunt, it opens with a spright, happy-go-lucky banjo. Vernon pleasantly pipes up and you’re on your way to a fine listening experience. When the band kicks in at the second verse, you’re all Vernon’s. By then, she’s showcasing golden vocals, intruiging with a big-bandish arrangement. Tough stuff that leaves a listener severely impressed. Her stock in trade is bringing you in with a bright, almost child-like presence before handing you over to a sultry side that kills in cold blood.

Fact is, great as she is on this cut and the somber gem, “Grey Sky,” Before I Forget does not come highly recommended for social gatherings where you want music to be just something in the background. After all, you’d hate to be in the middle of a world-changing conversation, catch one of Katy Vernon’s songs out of the corner of your ear, and find yourself standing there, leaving you wondering what the hell you were talking about a minute ago. 

Katy Vernon, who grew up in London, has a reputable history hereabouts. The Minneapolis and St. Paul press love her and she’s performed at the Guthrie, 7th Street Entry, that stalwart dive Lee’s Liquor Lounge, Amsterdam Bar, and the 331 Club. As lead vocalist for The Camdens, she played all over the place. For good measure, Vernon was nominated for a Minnesota Music Award for her song “Invitation” as Song of the Year. London’s loss is the Twin Cities’ gain. Historic country-rock songbirds like Nicolette Larson, Rosemary Butler, and Stevie Nicks may as well make room in the discerning music fan’s library for singular siren Katy Vernon.