Kat Parsons – Oh! (2012)

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Kat Parsons sounds sort of like a geekier, over-caffeinated Carole King, singing with humor, joy and these occasional flashes of revealing introspection over a series of pop confections on the perfectly named Oh!

She begins with “Love Changes Everything,” an almost relentlessly mirthful track marked by its peppy theme (“sometimes life is better than fantasy”), skipping rhythm and soaringly intertwined vocals. At first, in fact, it almost feels a touch too happy as Parsons deliriously sings “love, love, love,” just lost in it. But that tumbling, weirdly discombobulated sense of blue-sky weightlessness is not such a bad metaphor for the mind-emptying early moments in a relationship, right? And, besides, the Vienna-born singer-songwriter is just getting started.

She downshifts smartly into “Oh!” — maybe the album’s biggest surprise, considering its effusive title — offering a lyric that’s maybe no less romantically entangled, but betrays a deep sense of what’s at stake with such things. The song’s chorus also illustrates the stunning range that Parsons, daughter of opera singer Darrell Parsons and pianist Julie Parsons, possesses — as she turns a single word in a sweeping range of emotions.

By the time Parsons gets to “What’s Wrong,” clouds have begun to crowd out what was once a sun-filled horizon, and that plays in smart juxtaposition with the song’s lilting reggae-inspired cadence. “Let’s Not Be Scared,” spoken more than sung, then finds Parsons in a billowing darkness, but yet still clinging to hope, to that one person who might be able to help her sort through what’s gone wrong. “Let’s choose love,” she says, in a confidential whisper, and that heartbreaking fragility gives new meaning to everything that came before.

The album-closing “Happy,” at first, seems like a return to the endless summer of her opening track here, as Parsons constructs a brilliantly offbeat Beatles-inspired hook — all shambling beats, bursts of strings, insistent piano flourishes and anthematic choruses. But the lyric betrays, once more, a deeper understanding of things, as Parsons talks with a sharp wit about finding yourself before looking for love.

This EP, released on October 9, 2012, is the second in a Kickstarter-funded trilogy of recordings that began with April’s Talk to Me. If the narrative sweep of Oh! is any indication of what’s to come, Parsons still has plenty to say.

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