Going to see Alicia Wiley recently at the 331 Club, I caught a couple of pleasant surprises. Nathan Cole (bass player with Kymara, 2 Wurds), whom I hadn’t seen in ages, was there. No sooner had we started catching up when Shannon Johnson (who, for all intents and purposes, is Kymara) waltzed in. It was great seeing those two again—and Shannon just happened to have, out in the car, a two-song demo of material from Kymara’s new, currently in-progress album.
I forget whether she graciously offered to give me a copy or whether I shamelessly begged. Either way, a drink or two later she was autographing it for me. I stashed the disc in my pocket, gleefully looking forward to doing something when I got home besides wishing I hadn’t got there alone.
Wiley played a splendid set, including material from her new, just finished fifth album Halfway Home (Nate’s got something in the works with 2 Wurds, too—seems everybody’s busy in the studio). I beat it back to the crib and, since my daughter was spending the night over at a friend’s, I had the run of the joint at whatever ungodly hour it was. Also, my upstairs neighbor wasn’t home. I had the freedom to pour myself a triple-Jack straight, parade around in the altogether, and play music as loud as I wanted in the middle of the night—which is exactly what I proceeded to do, putting Shannon’s disc on straightaway.
Right off, I was impressed. It’s the same as her songs on Kymara’s Live at the Fine Line and Liquor Hot, only different. It’s got Shannon’s trademark style—an urgent, breathy way with moody melodies—stamped all over it. And, of course, those slyly sardonic lyrics. But she has stepped things up a notch with tighter-than-ever songwriting. “Serendipity” is a strutting, bluesy gem testifying to that timeless malady: a woman waiting up late for her man to come home. It’s sung with such tension you’re not quite sure whether the guy, when he does show up, is in for some of the fiercest loving he ever had or a knot upside his head. “My Reply,” showcasing more of her acoustic guitar finger-picking than usual, is that finely threaded rarity: melancholy that sidesteps self-sympathy. It tugs at your heartstrings and punches you in the gut. Bottom line: both cuts rock like Gibraltar.
At some point, I called it a night. Morning. Whatever. And made myself a note to file away for when the new album comes out: Kymara is badder than ever.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.