Released 4 September 2015 via New Scotland Records
Mo Kenney is a 25-year-old singer songwriter from Nova Scotia, much lauded in the Maritimes who with her mentor, the iconic Canadian musician Joel Plasket, has produced an album of grace, power and insight. More than just another “girl with a guitar”, the elfin and androgynous Kenney combines aching vulnerability with world-weary cynicism. She reminds at times of the uncomfortable parables and metaphors of Tom Waits or New Young crossed with a modern girl’s savvy wit. But Kenney is not comfortable with comparisons with other artists.
‘I can’t think of a specific artist who has influenced my lyrics,’ she tells Kemptation, ‘but Elliott Smith has definitely had a big impact on my guitar playing.’
When pressed about her inspiration she tells us: ‘I tend to write from personal experience, or at least that’s usually my starting point when I’m writing a song.’
The tone of this album, her second, is set by its opening track, Faked It, as we hear her husky blues-tinged voice sing unaccompanied over its opening lines. It’s a mellow rocker with a bitter heart and tells of Kenney’s apparently cold-blooded seduction and betrayal of a lover.
‘I was lying through my teeth
When I said it wouldn’t hurt
There was not a chance in hell
That was ever going to work’
But despite her startling honesty, one is drawn to love Kenney, to take her side. She tells no lies. She is painfully and completely honest at all times.
‘Music was there for me when I was an angsty, emotional teenager, and it’s still there for me now,’ she tells us. ‘I listen to the music I do, because I can relate to what the artist is saying in the songs. I’m not looking to change anyone with my songs, I’d just like people to be able to relate to them and make a personal connection with them.’
Plasket leads a band of seasoned musicians to provide an ideal folk-rock framing to Kenney’s remarkable songs. Credit should be given to all concerted for a powerful yet restrained performance. But it is the lyrics and Kenney’s reading of them that make this album stand out from the herd.
The strong pop hook of Telephones masks more betrayal. Funny, wicked and honest, it is stripped of the usual faux regrets concerning infidelity, singing: ‘If I had another lover, could I keep you on the side?’
She reminds a little of Tracy Thorn and the world-weary cynicism of The Beautiful South and Don’t Marry Him.
Kenney makes a welcome return to Europe in the autumn of 2015 with dates including London on September 15 at the Servant Jazz Quarters. She turned more than a few heads on her last visit in 2013.
This is a remarkable collection of originals from a young artist who has rapidly matured into a superb songwriter. Not for everybody, but if you want a strong independent woman singing songs of life and betrayal (much of it hers) it’s worth a listen. Just don’t ask her why, as she sings in the Edwyn Collins-influenced Mountain to the Mess:
‘You wonder where I am, and to who I’m telling lies
Well I’m outside in the rain and snow
You can’t understand my mind, it’s not for you to know’
Artist: Mo Kenney
Label: New Scotland
A remarkable collection of originals from a young artist who has rapidly matured into a superb songwriter.